It takes a special type of player and character to stay at Real Madrid for 15 years, but while Sergio Ramos will go down in history as one of the all-time greats at the Santiago Bernabéu, he will also be remembered as one of the most controversial figures to ever grace La Liga.
On Sunday, Ramos scored his fourth La Liga goal of the season in the 4-1 win over Osasuna, the 16th season in succession that he has found the back of the net. Keeping in character, he then committed a foul that pundits believed to be deserving of a red card. The captain can only play with his heart on his sleeve, and his game is built upon his passion to desire to succeed at all costs.
Madrid team-mate Martin Ødegaard is currently on-loan at Real Sociedad, and the duo clashed when the two teams recently met in the Copa del Rey following a late tackle by the young Norwegian.
Ødegaard is likely to return to the Bernabéu in the near future, such has been the success of his latest loan spell, and while he will look to established leaders like Ramos for support, he will know that dealing with the captain requires an exceptional degree of respect.
Ramos is as much a manager’s dream as he is a manager's nightmare. His commitment to the cause inevitably spreads throughout the team, while the number of key goals that he has contributed since arriving in the Spanish capital from Sevilla in 2005 has been crucial to the success that they have achieved.
He is one of La Liga’s most decorated players, but also holds a series of unenviable records through the ill-discipline that has defined his professional image.
Ramos has been shown more cards in his domestic career in La Liga than any other player, and he isn't finished yet. He is also been shown more cards than any other player in the UEFA Champions League, and that record is matched by the number of cards he has received during his international career with Spain.
It will come as little surprise to know that no player across Europe's major leagues has been booked as many times as Ramos either.
It is quite rare for a player who receives so many cards to find himself representing one of the most successful clubs, as Real Madrid rely on their defence far less than those teams struggling at the wrong end of the table, and spend a lot more time in possession of the ball than without it.
But these darker elements are just one side of Ramos, and his success with Real Madrid and Spain more than outweighs the controversy that threatens to inevitably tarnish his reputation when his career is reflected upon.
His success is confirmed in the number of titles and honours that Ramos has amassed during the course of his career to date. He has lifted the UEFA Champions League on four occasions, claimed four La Liga titles, and has become FIFA World Club Cup champion four times.
In all, he has claimed 21 trophies during his time at Real Madrid. With Spain, his record is even more impressive, as Ramos lifted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, a triumph achieved between being named European champions in 2008 and again in 2012.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had the same edge to his game, and his disciplinary demons eventually saw his career end in spectacular style at the 2006 World Cup final. There is no doubt that the Frenchman will have an appreciation and understanding of what drives Ramos to lead his team in the way that he does.
While his discipline may lead to the manager’s frustration on occasion, he will also sympathise with his captain when his reputation goes before him with the match officials.
A player in his manager's vision
Ramos has also played under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. An equally divisive character, Ramos was a vehicle for Mourinho’s 'us against the world' mentality on the field, and the Portuguese would have embraced the desire and spirit that the defender brought to his team.
This was never more evident than during the memorable Clasico fixtures against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona when they were at the very height of their power. For both Zidane and Mourinho, Ramos represents a character very much in their own vision.
But while his attitude and application is unique, his reputation has made him a liability in certain situations, and he will generally struggle to find sympathy as the pantomime villain of La Liga. However, it is that character that has made him the player he is today, and there is no changing him now as he prepares to turn 34.
His success for club and country justifies his approach to the game, and curbing his discipline would take away the battling quality of his game that has generated so much glory over the years.
Ramos is a difficult figure to judge when assessing his contribution to the game. Those in support will highlight his enviable list of achievements, while the purists will scorn upon his expertise in implementing the darkest of arts.
His lack of discipline has cost his side in the past, but it has also been a catalyst to success, such are the fine margins when a player plays on the absolute edge. His distinctive smile endears him to those fighting his corner and counters the aggression that provides his defensive quality.
But even those at the very top cannot play forever, and as Ramos enters the final years of his career at the very highest level, it is inevitable that his ability will suffer under the hands of time. His ability to defend has enabled him to enjoy a long and distinguished career, and his character will not change as his technical qualities inevitably begin to wane.
However, playing at the very top level is an unforgiving environment, and his ability to compete at the level demanded at Real Madrid will soon be tested like never before.
There is every reason to believe that Ramos can still enjoy more success with Real Madrid and Spain before he brings his distinguished playing career to a close, and it is testament to his quality that he remains such an integral figure for both club and country, despite the disciplinary issues that his critics embrace.
But that is his character, and it is that character that has given Ramos the edge to succeed at each and every stage of his career.
It is difficult to imagine that we will see the likes of Ramos at the very highest level of the game again. His style is a throwback to a previous generation of player who embraced the physical challenge that defined a bygone era.
Academy education has a very different focus now, but there is no doubt that Ramos also has the technical attributes to justify his legendary status in the game.
He is the player that every team wants on their side rather than against them, and the dark side of his game is tolerable through his exceptional ability on the ball and his natural leadership quality.
His record of achievement speaks for itself, and as he reaches the latter stage of his career, he represents a very different attitude to those taking their first steps in the game.
Love him or loathe him, Ramos will be missed by the competitions that he has graced when he eventually hangs up his boots, and the European game will miss one of its true characters when that day arrives.Published 11 Feb 2020, 01:50 IST