How Sergio Ramos set the standard for a modern-day CB while at Real Madrid

Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid monitors a lot of young talents, with the plan of signing the best out of them. The club’s recruitment of young midfielders has been superb in recent times, and they did a good job by signing a young and unproven Eder Militao for huge money. But few more defensive signings are needed for the future, and the club has a task at its hands.

The first thing the club needs to do is to identify the profile of the defender they want to sign. They need to search for a strong and complete defender, who has the same winning mentality as the club. A defender who has the potential to become the best in his position. In short, they need to look for another Sergio Ramos, a player who has revolutionalized the way a modern center-back is expected to play and has influenced many young defenders with his exploits.

Sergio Ramos isn’t just any other normal player who stayed at the club for some years and left after winning some trophies. For the fans, he is a symbol of Madridismo. He is simply the greatest defender and the greatest leader in the history of Real Madrid. He has had an unparalleled impact in his 16-year journey at Real Madrid, and he left after winning everything at the club.

The Spaniard might be struggling due to his injuries at the moment, but he has nothing to prove to anyone at this point and has been the best center-back in Europe for almost a decade. Nobody would’ve expected to see him reach this position when he started as a right-back. Thanks to fate and Jose Mourinho, the man who saw this beast of a center-back in Ramos, he has become one of the most influential defenders of all time.

People know him for his last-minute goals, for his record number of red cards, for his aggressive nature, and his fights on the pitch. But he’s bigger than everything else, and he might just be the most perfect defender you could’ve ever seen. He is simply one of a kind, and he has set a high standard as a center-back, and it is very difficult for a player to reach those levels. Let us see why it’s a huge challenge to reach the levels Ramos has set, and how Ramos has set the standard for a modern-day center-back.

Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

No matter what, you’ve got to keep your body on the line as a defender

Let us begin with the primary duty of a defender, which is defending.

Over the years, Ramos has started as the left center-back for Real Madrid in a four-man backline, while he played towards the right, for Spain. If you compare his season heatmap to that of his defensive partner at Real Madrid, Raphael Varane, you can easily observe that Ramos is usually far ahead of Varane. His average position would be somewhere near the halfway line, holding a very high line and a fine offside trap. We will get back to his heatmaps later, but this gives you an idea of how advanced his positioning is usually is.

This advanced positioning shows how confident he is with his decision, and it also enables him to aggressively shut down any counter-attack, before the opponent can pose any danger. Defenders like Varane usually stay back and wait for the attackers to come at them and try to beat them at a foot race. But Ramos would simply pounce onto the attackers like a lion, and he could easily intercept any pass, thanks to his defensive intelligence.

This aggressive approach is somewhat risky. Sometimes, Ramos has to commit dangerous tackles to win the ball, and sometimes it requires too much physical effort, due to which there is a risk of injury. People can also point out the odd occasions where Ramos’ aggressive positioning didn’t help the team, but they can’t deny how Ramos came out on topmost of the time. His approach shows how you have to give your 100% on the pitch as a defender, and even keep your body on the line, if the situation demands so. And you’ve got to have confidence in your approach, there shouldn’t be any second thoughts.

Another important aspect of Ramos’ defensive game was that he never gave up. He would track back quickly once the ball crosses him, and can recover well, thanks to his excellent recovery speed. Even when he’s running behind an attacker, he would attempt to win the ball with a last-man tackle even when there’s a very small chance of doing so. And when he’s not tracking the player, he would position him so well that he might either block a possible shot or clear it off the goal line like this. That just showcases his aggressive intent, which has been one of the main reasons behind his successful career. And all these

He wasn’t the tallest player on the field, but he would still manage to be the dominant player in aerial duels, at both ends of the pitch. He was quick enough to recover soon, clever enough to intercept passes and make the attackers look powerless with simple things like body shape like he did against Mbappe and Cavani in 2018. He also had the perfect technique to overshadow his minor flaws, if there were any, and the most aggressive intent on the pitch. All these traits just made him the perfect defender to lead Real Madrid’s high defensive line. Have a look at this video from the club’s official channel on Youtube, showcasing Ramos’ defending skills.

I usually don’t rely on numbers while talking about defending, because defending can’t come down to numbers. It is mainly about responding to different situations and being proactive on the pitch as a defender. Numbers can only tell us that Ramos committed a tackle, but they can’t show us anything about the difficulty of that tackle, and the importance of that moment. And those numbers can’t do justice to Ramos’ defensive interventions, only the eye test can.

He set the standards so high that any defender might find it difficult to adapt to his role in a high defensive line. Eder Militao has been one heck of a destroyer for us so far, but we can’t compare him to Ramos, as he has a different approach to defending, often being the last defender on the pitch, unlike the Andalusian. But he has been a solid defender, and he can be a strong defensive presence like Ramos was. In this modern game, I would love to see defenders go for the Ramos way, by being aggressive and winning the ball higher up the pitch. The role is difficult and the standards set by the best player are very high, but it can help a player.

There’s one more thing young defenders taking inspiration from Ramos need to learn. There’s a fine line between aggression and recklessness. Ramos was aggressive (forgive me for overusing the word), but when an aggressive challenge fails and it ends up as a foul, that intent is perceived as recklessness. Those moments of misfortune cost Ramos a lot, and he had to be sent off on some occasions, though the word some might be an understatement. Defenders just need to ensure that their confidence doesn’t turn into overconfidence, and be careful with their approach.

Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Eurasia Sports Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Eurasia Sports Images/Getty Images) /

You have got to lead the team from the back, and also build the attack from the back

We often say that leaders lead their team from the front. Well, we need to slightly modify this statement in the case of Ramos, as he leads his team from the back, guiding his players and starting the attack from the back, as the team’s best ball-playing defender.

In this modern game of football, defenders’ duty isn’t just to defend, they have to build the attack from the back. And with the importance of capitalizing on transitions increasing every day, there’s a need for a center-back to be quick with their decision-making. While Eder Militao is a decent ball-playing defender with a habit of attempting sumptuous long balls, David Alaba is a master of the art. And Alaba’s predecessor Sergio Ramos, wasn’t any different, as El Capitano would often be the first player to initiate an attack from the back.

He is excellent with the ball at this feet and can pass the ball well equally with both his feet. I’ve mentioned previously that we will get back to Ramos’ heatmaps and positioning, and it is relevant here. Ramos’ positioning with the ball at his feet is pretty advanced as well, and he doesn’t hesitate to bring the ball out on his own. And his great press resistance and physical strength to hold off challenges enable him to do so.

His long passing numbers are excellent, and one can always observe him attempting a long diagonal ball to the right-back Carvajal at Real Madrid. In the 2019/20 LaLiga season, he had completed 238 long passes in LaLiga at a rate of 7.1 accurate long balls per 90 and was just behind Toni Kroos and Ever Banega in that list. He was seventh on the list of players with the highest pass success rate. The situation wasn’t any different in 2018/19, as Ramos was the league’s 3rd best long passer, which just shows how consistent he was. These numbers might not show how important his long passes were, but goals like these will show how effective his diagonal balls are.

And Ramos also has a creative edge to his game, and it is obvious given how he had started as a right-back in his Real Madrid career. He is blessed with excellent crossing abilities and can help his teammates score goals like these with his passes. On a whole, he was a well-rounded ball-playing defender.

We usually refer to defenders as destroyers, ball-playing defenders, etc. But Ramos has changed it with his well-rounded skill-set. For the modern-day center-back, being good at one thing isn’t enough to become the best. You have got to be a master at everything like Ramos. He has set such high standards.

Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images) /

When you are good at heading, why not put it into good effect?

I was never going to include this in the article because scoring goals has nothing to do with defending. It should never be considered as a parameter to judge defenders, though tall defenders are often the targets of set-pieces.

But over the years, Ramos has scored so many amazing goals from set-pieces and has gained a reputation for being a goalscoring defender. Defenders like Ronald Koeman and Fernando Hierro were also known for their excellent goalscoring abilities, but Ramos gained a name for his goalscoring not because of his technique, but the importance of his goals. He was seen as a symbol of hope, and he often rose to the occasion. So I thought, why not include this aspect of Ramos’ game, which gave an additional dimension to his gameplay, and became a bonus for his team.

This has nothing to do with defending but as players who are dominant in the air and can head the ball well, maybe center-backs can put their heading skills into better effect. It won’t change the perception of their defending a bit, but it can help their team in emergency situations.

In Real Madrid’s recent 2-2 draw vs Elche, Carlo Ancelotti said that Eder MIlitao is the tallest player on the pitch and also their best header of the ball after the Brazilian scored an injury-time equalizer for the club. This drew some comparisons with Ramos as well, and once again shows how beneficial some of the defender’s skills can be, for the team.

Maybe, the modern-day center-back can take notes from Ramos and work on their heading as well, and just try to be a weapon to his team.

Next. The best Real Madrid player to wear every kit number. dark

Another trait of Ramos that can never go unnoticed is his leadership, which needs no introduction. Well, leadership is something that you inherit by birth, and not something that can be gained overnight. Those leadership skills made Ramos much more special, and by looking at the standards set by Ramos in every other aspect, we can say that a modern-day center-back needs to be something more than ‘just a defender’.