Who has been the most important player in Real Madrid's era of Champions League dominance?
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev, there is no doubt that Real Madrid will go down as the outstanding team of the 2010s.
Zinedine Zidane’s men have already achieved immortality by becoming the first side to retain the trophy since its format changed in 1992-93, but they stand on the brink of something even greater as they face up to Liverpool. Not since Bayern Munich’s run from 1974-76 has any club been as dominant.
It would be churlish to argued that anyone other than Cristiano Ronaldo has been the kingmaker in their dominance. The Portuguese has totalled 45 goals in the years they have won the competition, has a further 15 this season and has claimed the Ballon d’Or five times as a result of his on-field brilliance.
When it has come to the final and the clutch moments that have really mattered, the 33-year-old has stood tall. He scored the decisive penalty against Atletico Madrid in 2016, having also netted the fourth against Real’s neighbours in 2014. And of course he scored twice to turn around a 1-0 deficit as Zidane’s side ultimately cruised to a 4-1 win over Juventus last season.
And yet, for all Ronaldo’s contribution, there is one man who has arguably been even more clutch that him in the showpiece matches.
Sergio Ramos may not be in Madrid’s team for his scoring prowess, despite a highly commendable 73 goals for the club from centre-back, yet he has shown a knack of scoring exactly when it has mattered most.
Three minutes into stoppage time at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz, Zidane’s side trailed 1-0 to Atleti. The situation was apparently hopeless, yet from a late corner the Spain international headed a leveller.
He further proved his qualities in Milan two years later, getting the opener against the same opponents early in the game.
A fiery presence in the heart of Madrid’s defence, he may not be their captain – or even necessarily their best player in the traditional sense – but he is their spiritual leader, the man to which the team can turn for support in the moments of greatest crisis.
Often, he is not in a position to influence the match as decisively as Ronaldo, but when given the opportunity he is more than happy to play the role of hero.
"I don't know how Ramos does it," erstwhile team-mate Alvaro Morata once said of the defender after he helped the team rally from 2-0 down to beat Deportivo La Coruna. "You think: 'Will he do it again? F**k, I can't believe it, he's done it again!’"
Of course, he has not just reserved this quality for the Champions League, it has pervaded his mindset throughout a career in which he has sometimes been criticised for not being rigorous enough in more mundane matches.
The bigger the moment, the greater Ramos plays.
Never was this better illustrated than during Euro 2012 for Spain, where he stepped up to take a penalty in a shootout against Portugal, a matter of weeks after he had shot high in the same situation against Bayern Munich in the Champions League – one of the rare times he has failed on the greatest stage.
“It wasn’t so much that I missed against Bayern, but the fact that people immediately questioned my will or my ability to face that responsibility and to triumph. My pride was stung, so I decided right then to demonstrate in style that they were all wrong,” he commented after chipping his penalty down the middle of the goal in the most outrageous style.
They certainly were wrong, and Ramos has gone about proving them so in the six years since.
Such has been his performances on the highest level, there have been those that have touted him as a potential Ballon d’Or winner, potentially the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 to take the honour and just the third overall in a history dating more than 60 years.
“I don’t think it’s crazy,” Ramos told Undici.
With him, anything is possible.
Ronaldo may pose Liverpool the most obvious threat in Kiev on Saturday, but it is the risk-loving centre-back who could pack the hidden punch as he chases a third Champions League final goal.