RAMOS BIDS FOR OLYMPIC MEDAL TO COM­PLETE TRO­PHY HAUL

▶ Vet­eran de­fender is tar­get­ing a place in Spain’s Tokyo team, which has not gone down well with some

The National - News - - FOOTBALL SPORT - IAN HAWKEY

For any­one who can­not get enough of Ser­gio Ramos, cap­tain of Real Madrid, new record holder for Spain caps, and sub­ject of an ex­tended doc­u­men­tary se­ries – The Heart of Ser­gio

Ramos – cur­rently show­ing on a global sub­scrip­tion chan­nel, good news for the year ahead.

He in­tends 2020 to be a glo­ri­ous, un­in­ter­rupted year of max­i­mum ex­po­sure. There might be a fifth Liga ti­tle – Madrid go to Mal­lorca this week­end sit­ting at the top of La Liga – and he means to add Cham­pi­ons League No 5 to his col­lec­tion.

Come June, a third Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, this one as cap­tain of Spain. And, from left-field, a fresh target.

Last week, while col­lect­ing his record 168th in­ter­na­tional cap – and, this be­ing Ramos, his 24th book­ing for his coun­try – he an­nounced he has am­bi­tions to go to the Olympic Games in Japan. Spain have al­ready qual­i­fied, via the Uefa Un­der 21 cham­pi­onships.

The rules of Olympic men’s football al­low only three play­ers over 23 years old in a squad, and Ramos sees the se­nior role as per­fectly tai­lored for him.

He also likes the idea of a unique set of medals: He has won ev­ery­thing avail­able in his club football ca­reer, and a World Cup and two Eu­ros.

Add a Games tri­umph, and he would be the first foot­baller with both an Olympic gold and a World Cup since 1938.

Ramos will turn 34 in March, and as he be­gins to glimpse the day when his all-ac­tion cen­tre-half game might no longer be sus­tain­able at the most glam­orous of clubs, or in the 21st cen­tury’s most suc­cess­ful na­tional team, ev­ery medal is to be cher­ished.

“What player would say no to the Olympics?” Ramos asked, hav­ing him­self put the ques­tion of his star­ring in Tokyo strate­gi­cally into the pub­lic do­main. As it hap­pens, there are sev­eral par­ties who might re­sist.

Spain have tra­di­tion­ally re­served the Olympics, as far as pos­si­ble, for the play­ers who got them there, in this case the un­der-21s who won the last Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

Some of those, like Dani Ce­bal­los, of Arsenal, Fabian Ruiz, of Napoli, and Pablo For­nals, of West Ham, would only be el­i­gi­ble for Tokyo as over 23. If Ramos el­bows his way in, some­body will feel dis­grun­tled.

His club, Real Madrid, are scep­ti­cal. The sum­mer’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, for which Spain qual­i­fied on Tues­day, will end on July 12; the football at the Games be­gins 11 days later.

If Spain go all the way, the fi­nal takes place six days be­fore the 2020-21 La Liga sea­son.

That’s a worn-out cap­tain, with no club pre-sea­son, who would be rolling back into town, pres­ti­gious gold medal or not. The club are not obliged to give their bless­ing for an Olympic call-up.

But, as al­most ev­ery elite striker knows, Ramos has sharp el­bows and a rare de­ter­mi­na­tion, and he has power and in­flu­ence at the Span­ish Fed­er­a­tion and at Madrid. Any­body erect­ing ob­sta­cles to the idea of Ser­gio’s five-ringed sum­mer cir­cus had bet­ter be bold.

In sec­tions of the Span­ish me­dia, there is al­ready a band­wagon, a lobby for him to carry the Span­ish flag at the Olympic open­ing cer­e­mony, and a wist­ful vi­sion of Ramos and the tennis great Rafa Nadal cen­tre stage in Tokyo, two en­dur­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of what came to be known as the ‘Golden Age of Span­ish Sport’. The pe­riod when Nadal was com­mand­ing grand slams, and La Roja were win­ning ev­ery ma­jor ti­tle be­tween 2008 and 2012.

No­body, though, would name Ramos as the most loved fig­ure from those all-con­quer­ing Spain teams, who were cap­tained by the re­spected Iker Casil­las and had the ad­mired An­dres Ini­esta at the heart of their stylish pass-and-move.

Ramos, a long-haired full­back in his younger years, a pug­na­cious, goalscor­ing cen­tre-half in his ma­tu­rity, has al­ways di­vided opin­ion.

Ask Liver­pool, whose Mo­hamed Salah was de­prived of most of a Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Real Madrid af­ter Ramos, with a firm, sly tug at him, in­jured the Egyp­tian’s shoul­der and, in that mo­ment, helped Madrid to a third suc­ces­sive Euro­pean Cup tri­umph. Or ask Barcelona, against whom Ramos has col­lected no fewer than five of his 18 red cards in se­nior club football.

As one colum­nist from Cat­alo­nia put it: “So, the cap­tain of the na­tional team wants to go to the Olympics to try to add to his 24 ti­tles – and to his record as the player who has been sent off most, has a record num­ber of yel­low cards and is the player whose dirt­i­ness has been for­given by ref­er­ees more than any other. Few foot­ballers are fur­ther from the ‘Olympic Spirit’ than this one.”

Add a Games tri­umph, and Ramos would be the first foot­baller with both an Olympic gold and a World Cup since 1938

Reuters

Ser­gio Ramos, who will turn 34 in March, wants to be one of the three over23 play­ers in Spain’s Olympic squad

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