A few eyebrows will have been raised earlier this week when, speaking ahead of Real Madrid’s meeting with Valencia on Sunday, Zinedine Zidane claimed that Sergio Ramos was the best central defender ever.
“The best? He’s one of them, certainly,” the Real head coach told journalists ahead of this weekend’s La Liga clash, “[for] what he has done, what he is, and what he has shown in Madrid.
“I think he’s the best in history.”
On first glance, these appear to be the words of a manager trying to boost morale within his squad – who haven’t enjoyed the easiest start to the season – and not necessarily an honest assessment of Ramos’s place in football’s pantheon.
Despite his achievements – both with Real and Spain – Ramos remains a divisive figure in the world game.
Many despise him for his tenacious – if not overly zealous – approach to defending, and his ability to bend the rules for the good of his team.
His disciplinary record also leaves much to be desired; no player in the history of the Spanish top flight has more than his 191 yellow cards, 20 of which have been reds.
No one has been sent off more often, either in Spain or in the history of Europe’s major divisions. Let that sink in for a moment…
In the Champions League, his disciplinary record is little better.
He has amassed 44 cards in European competition, with four reds, and no one in the history of the UCL has picked up more bookings. In fact, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edgar Davids can match him for dismissals in Europe’s premier club competition.
He’s arguably been fortunate not to have picked up more red cards, with his foul on Mohamed Salah in the 2018 final – which led to the Liverpool star’s substitution, taking the impetus away from his side.
It also cost Salah the opportunity to build on his magnificent 2017-18 campaign with a strong showing at the World Cup, and some supporters – not just those of a Liverpool or Egypt persuasion – still haven’t forgiven him for that misdemeanor, despite Ramos’s protests.
For many, that disciplinary record, and Ramos’s tendency to serve his team even at the expense of the health of opposition players, surely precludes him from being considered among football’s greatest central defenders of all time.
However, considering his impact in the game, his influence in one of the most successful club sides in history, and his role for the Spanish national side during their golden era, he surely deserves to be considered in the conversation.
The talismanic stopper has amassed 22 major honors throughout his career, including five Spanish titles. Perhaps he should have had more, but four Champions League winner’s medals should ensure he sleeps comfortably at night time.
Neither has he been a passenger in those victories; Ramos has been one of the key protagonists in Real’s golden era, not least in the 2014 final when his 93rd-minute equalizer took the tie against rivals Atletico Madrid to extra time, before Los Merengues romped to the title.
For Spain, he’s fast approaching 200 caps, winning the World Cup in 2010 and two European Championships either side of that success.
Again, he was a key figure in those memorable triumphs, making the Team of the Tournament in both 2010 and 2012.
Finally, there is also Ramos’s remarkable goalscoring record to throw into the mix: 100 goals in 659 appearances for Real Madrid and 23 for Spain in 175 games. He remains a reliable go-to man for spot-kick duties for both teams.
He may not have the overarching creative influence of Franz Beckenbauer, the balance of Franco Baresi or the anticipation of Gaetano Scirea, but as far as all-time great center-backs go, few can match Ramos’s contribution to two history-writing sides.
Zidane’s claim may initially appear far-fetched, but love him or loathe him, Ramos deserves to be considered at the very pinnacle of the game’s central defenders.