When the time comes for Sergio Ramos to look back at the story of his life, the year 2014 will undoubtedly be one of the most glittering chapters. The Seville-born defender, now in his tenth season at Real Madrid, has earned unprecedented praise in demonstrating his vital importance to Los Blancos – not least for his crucial goals in the club’s conquest of both the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.
However, the joy of his club triumphs and the birth of his first child contrasted with the disappointment of holders Spain’s early exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. In an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, Ramos gave his insight on “an incredible year”, his remarkable eye for goal and why La Roja fell short in Brazil.
FIFA.com: Sergio, 2014 was certainly a special year for you. Would it be fair to say it was the best of your career?
*Sergio Ramos: *Yes, I think so. It was a very complete year, both professionally and personally. A fabulous year full of positive energy, objectives achieved and dreams come true. What more can you ask for in life? I became a father, which is a feeling like no other, and found a very good level of stability in my family and home life. And on top of that, I won titles and had success with my team. It was an incredible year for me.
*Real Madrid claiming *La Décima *must have been an extra special highlight. How great was the pressure to win that trophy again? *Over ten seasons at Real Madrid I’ve won pretty much everything, but that [the Champions League] was missing. That’s what tips the balance for me to choose 2014 as my best year. At Real Madrid, La Décima was always spoken of obsessively, so making that day come was pretty much an obligation. It’d been a long time since we’d last brought that cup home  and we were determined to prove our worth and put the club back where it belongs, as both an institution and a team. And on an individual note, the fact I contributed that bit extra both in the semi-final and the final [Editor’s note: Ramos scored twice in the semi-final second leg versus Bayern Munich and headed an injury-time equaliser against final opponents Atletico Madrid] means that being able to add that title to my honours’ list is special. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
You were unable to taste glory with Spain, however, after such a trophy-laden few years with the national team...
Well, of course it’s always good to be able to separate and not mix [what you do with your club and your national team], but it’d have been amazing if we’d also had a great World Cup too. It’s true that it was a very intense year, full of very gruelling games, and perhaps we weren’t in the best shape when we got to Brazil. It’s also clear that we’d been successful for several years, and you can’t keep winning matches and titles forever. We were able to enjoy a unique period and an extraordinary generation of footballers. We were crowned world champions and were twice European champions. Let’s see if anyone else can match that. But football’s a game and sooner or later the day that we would lose, that we’d get knocked out [of a major tournament], had to come. Now we have to focus again on the future, on a new group of players with a plenty of ambition and the drive to become competitive once more, to be a team that believes that it can win things.
Did you continue to follow the World Cup even after Spain’s exit?
Of course, because I love football. I enjoy it and so for that reason I’m drawn to watching the best players performing at an event like the World Cup. Clearly there’s a degree of frustration. But then, in part, you feel happy for your club-mates who are still involved, defending the colours of other national teams. But yes, I felt a bit hurt, sad and frustrated to be back home and not there any longer.
Were Germany deserved winners?
In my view yes. Anything could have happened, when it comes to a final it can go either way. Argentina were among the candidates and favourites from the beginning too. Germany have been reaching semi-finals for several years now though and been showing a unique playing philosophy and sense of team unity, at least according to my way of seeing and talking about the game. They were worthy winners of the title, they’ve got players who are immense. And not just in the Bundesliga, but when they come together for the national team too.
*There are those that have said Germany may not have won Brazil 2014 were it not for tactical influences taken on from the all-conquering Spain team. Do you agree? *
I don’t know. When you get a national team doing positive things, other teams do try and take on board things that could be good for them in the future too. In that sense, and having been part of that generation of La Selección players for so many years, I think that we shaped an era and stamped our identity on it. Spain were the only team playing that kind of football. At every age level, people enjoyed watching how we played the game. Perhaps there are teams that have absorbed a certain message, a tactical concept or a few ideas [from Spain] that have gone really well for them too. We came up against Germany in almost every tournament, they’re the team that, in inverted commas, were hurt most by us [Editor’s note: Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the final of EURO 2008 and in the semi-finals of South Africa 2010], so perhaps they’re the ones who learned the most too.
Turning back to your individual performances, over the course of 2014 your goalscoring ability was particularly to the fore. Is that something of a contradiction for a player whose main job is to defend?
That’s something we defenders have to live with: the work we do doesn’t get as much recognition [as scoring goals]. People never really talk much about how well you defend or if you’ve kept a clean sheet. At the end of the day what catches the eye is the result, who’s scored the goals. That’s what brings the money in and what makes football move nowadays (laughs). In my case, I was fortunate enough to be able to weigh in with goals in the semi-finals and finals of both the Champions League and the Club World Cup. But as a defender I have to say that 11 men make a team, it’s not just the guy who scores and celebrates a goal. Goalscorers need help from the defence and from midfield because it’s a team sport and one individual, however much they want to, can’t do anything by themselves.
That brings us neatly to the issue of footballers’ egos. What’s life like in a dressing room full of star names?
The basis is respect. Of course a dressing room can get very complicated when it includes people from very different cultures, languages and countries. When there’s such a mix of everything you have to know how to handle it very well. In that sense we [at Real Madrid], through humility and respect, always try to make life easier for players who joins us, we try to help them settle in as quickly as possible. [Carlo] Ancelotti is very important in this: he was a player himself, he knows all about players who come in from outside the club and he understands the problems they might have.
What other qualities does Ancelotti have?
He notices how a player settles in, whether he makes an effort to open up to his team-mates or not. He’s a coach who takes you aside, talks to you and makes everything as smooth as possible, both on a professional and personal level. That’s the key to success, which is why he’s a truly great coach. In my view, he’s one of the two best I’ve had in my whole career. And above all else he’s a good person, which is a bonus when it comes to dealing with players.
*Ancelotti, and who’s the other? *
Wow, that’s a hard one. There’s Luis Aragones, then you have Joaquin Caparros, who really believed in me when I was a nobody. I have had some fantastic coaches and Ancelotti’s definitely in the top three.