Sergio Ramos is keeping Real Madrid first in La Liga
At 34, Sergio Ramos is helping anchor one of the best Real Madrid defenses in decades—while adding game-winning goals to keep his club atop the La Liga title race. Ali Alqarni/EPA.

Scroll through the top scorers in La Liga this season and the anomaly that is Sergio Ramos sticks out. The 10 goals notched by the Real Madrid centre back ranks him among Spain’s most productive attackers for the 2019/20 campaign, and above Antoine Griezmann, Alexander Isak, Loren Moron, Inaki Williams and Joao Felix. The next highest scoring defender on the list is Espanyol’s David Lopez, who has just four goals to his name.

Of course, Real Madrid don’t primarily pay Ramos to find the back of the net, but his goalscoring numbers illustrate the force with which he has pushed his club to the front of the title race. Los Blancos are on course for only their second La Liga title in eight years and the 34-year-old has been a driving force behind the whole team.

Ramos has earned a reputation as something of a pantomime villain over the course of his career—just ask Liverpool fans what they think of the defender after his tangle with Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final. It’s a role he appears to revel in, blurring the lines between being a protagonist and a footballing arsonist. At times, his actions can seem reckless, but more often than not he comes up big when it matters most.

His last two performances proved this. Real Madrid struggled to find top form in games against Getafe and Athletic Club, suffering from a trough of fatigue having played five matches in just two weeks. But when Zinedine Zidane needed someone to come up with something, Ramos was the one who stepped forward, scoring penalty kick winners in both.

Since the resumption of the Liga season, Ramos has scored five times in seven games. Where title rivals Barcelona have faltered, Real Madrid have kept moving forward and that has largely been down to the character of their captain, a man who cares only about winning, not the manner of doing so.

“Ramos is our leader and captain,” Zidane said after Ramos’ match-winning display away to Athletic Club last week, a game that had all the makings of a trip-up for Real Madrid. “He shows us the way on the field. He has been here for many years, and he must retire here.”

Every so often, speculation emerges that Ramos could leave the Spanish capital. Last summer saw the defender request a move to China. He also spent time flirting with the idea of a transfer to Manchester United a few years ago. Now, Ramos is approaching another career crossroads, with his contract up next summer.

It’s almost impossible imagine Ramos at another club. When it comes to players over the age of 30, Real Madrid insist on only extending contracts one year at a time, but an exception will surely have to be made for a figure who is the heart and soul of the club. Ramos wants a new two-year deal and his performances this season give him real leverage.

Cristiano Ronaldo might have been the face of an era of glittering success for the Spanish capital club, but nobody has embodied the fighting spirit and winning mentality that has been fostered at the Santiago Bernabeu like Ramos. His focus from the spot, where he has scored his last 22 penalty kicks in succession, is reflective of the focus he applies to the sport as a whole.

Real Madrid have taken on the look of champions-elect in recent weeks and their title challenge has been built on a strong defensive foundation. Not for 32 years have Los Blancos made it this far into the season while conceding so few goals. Indeed, their defensive success this season is of historic proportions.

Ramos cannot be credited solely for this. His centre back partner Raphael Varane has also enjoyed an exceptional campaign, while the injury-prone Dani Carvajal has maintained his form and fitness. Ferland Mendy has proven himself as a reliable performer following a move from Lyon last summer, while even Marcelo appears rejuvenated by the competition for his place at left back. Thibaut Courtois has also grown into the role of ‘Galactico’ goalkeeper despite a shaky start to life as Real Madrid number one.

Real Madrid’s impending title triumph cannot be attributed to one player, but Ramos deserves to be the face of their success. He is the one who has done the most to ensure it, and not just from the penalty spot—from the locker room to the training pitch and back. Ramos isn’t just content with being a born winner. He ensures everyone around him are winners too.