MADRID: After 671 appearances, 101 goals, 22 trophies and 26 red cards, Sergio Ramos (pix) is leaving Real Madrid after 16 years of service in which he captained the club in one of their greatest ever eras.
Real announced the departure of one of their most iconic players in the briefest of statements on Wednesday, saying Ramos would be honoured with a farewell news conference alongside president Florentino Perez on Thursday.
Ramos, 35, ran down his contract and, according to Spanish newspaper Marca, was unable to agree an extension after Real offered him a one-year deal on a 10% pay cut which he rejected.
He is now a free agent and although time is not on his side, there should be no shortage of clubs interested in signing one of the most fierce winners the modern game has seen.
“He leaves as Madrid’s best ever central defender, without a doubt,” said former Real striker Predrag Mijatovic.
Former Real striker Ivan Zamorano added: “Ramos does not deserve to leave like this. He is the club’s most successful captain. Today the club made no effort to keep him.”
Ramos, who signed for Real from Sevilla in 2005 for €27 million (RM133 m) , a record fee for a Spanish defender, came close to leaving the club in 2015 after lengthy negotiations with Manchester United.
But he decided to stay and inherit the captain’s armband from departing goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The previous season he had saved Real from a Champions League final defeat to neighbours Atletico Madrid by scoring a 93rd-minute leveller, his side sweeping to a 4-1 victory in extra time to finally capture ‘La Decima’, a long-awaited 10th European Cup.
The player immortalised the moment by tattooing ‘92.48’ on his arm, the exact timing the ball hit the net.
Ramos then skippered Real to an unprecedented hattrick of Champions League triumphs, scoring against Atletico again in the 2016 final as well as converting a penalty in the shootout.
Just as important to that win was a cynical foul on Antoine Griezmann to prevent a dangerous Atletico counter, showcasing a ruthless side to his game that made him such a crucial player in Real’s golden era.
He was also involved in a coming together with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the 2018 final which led to the Egyptian injuring his shoulder, provoking the ire of the Merseyside club’s fans after Real won 3-1.
Ramos was used to being in the thick of the action and played a leading role in last season’s La Liga title win with a career best 11 league goals.
But he was absent from most of the past campaign due to a nasty run of injuries which led to Spain coach Luis Enrique leaving him out of the squad for Euro 2020, denying him the chance to play back in his home city of Seville.
Even when on the sidelines, Ramos was a towering presence, bellowing out encouragement from the empty Alfredo di Stefano stadium where Real have played during the pandemic era while renovating their Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Ramos will not get to represent Real at the new-look arena and will get no farewell from the club’s fans, who loved him as much as all-time greats Raul, Di Stefano and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“It’s the end of an era for Real Madrid,” said pundit Alvaro Benito on radio station Cadena Ser.
“Every time a player of this magnitude leaves there is a change of cycle. Whoever comes in will not be as good as Ramos.” – Reuters