It was at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park on 28 June 2010 that Brazil midfielder Ramires experienced what was then the high point of his career: A Seleção’s 3-0 defeat of Chile in the Round of 16 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Yet before the final whistle sounded, his delight at having played a key part in Brazil’s finest performance of the tournament gave way to frustration. Shortly after completing a mazy dribble through the Chilean defence and laying off the pass that allowed Robinho to complete the scoring, Ramires picked up the yellow card that would see him suspended from the quarter-finals.
Fast forward to 24 April 2012 and Ramires was enjoying another career pinnacle, this time with Chelsea. The Brazilian scored the stunning goal that would ultimately lead to the elimination of the much-feted Barcelona at the Camp Nou. And yet, once again, this crowning moment was followed by disappointment in the shape of a yellow card. Just as he had been forced to sit out the 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands in 2010, so Ramires will be absent from the UEFA Champions League final on 19 May against Bayern in Munich.
“It was one of the first things I thought about when I came down after the game,” the 25-year-old player told FIFA.com, comparing the two situations. “I was so happy with the goal and the qualification, though, that I still feel immune to it. I think it’s only going to be in the days leading up to the game that I’m really going to feel how hard it is to be out of the final. I only hope the outcome is different to that of 2010 and that the cup can be ours.”
One final reached, one final missed
It is not hard to see how the joy of taking the team to the European final outweighs the disappointment of not being able to take part in it. Describing the chip he scored just before the end of the first half, when Chelsea were trailing 2-0, Ramires did not spare the adjectives.
“It was an unforgettable moment, a marvellous day that will remain forever in my memory. There's no doubt, for what it represents, that it was the most important goal of my career,” he recalled. “We were up against a packed Camp Nou, the best team in the world, and we made history. I'm sure that goal will be remembered forever. When I stop playing I will be able to tell my son that I helped Chelsea reach the final of the Champions League. There's nothing in the world that can match how proud I feel about that.”
Aside from the pride he feels, Ramires has another source of consolation for missing the showdown at the Allianz Arena. On Saturday 5 May the Blues will be at Wembley to contest the FA Cup final against Liverpool, another big occasion the team reached with the help of the Brazilian, the scorer of two goals in the 5-1 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to save our season in England. It would be great to finish the campaign with these two titles,” said the midfielder, who has yet to win a trophy since arriving at the English club in August 2010. “It would be a happy ending after everything we have gone through to get here. Our season would make a script for a great film, with all the ingredients and good feelings.”
A question of confidence
Ramires is referring to the arrival of the Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas at the start of the 2011/12 season, an appointment surrounded by a lot of ceremony and optimism. Less than a year later, in March 2012, the coach was sacked with the team lying fifth in the English league – and not even the most optimistic of fans would have dreamed that just a few week later they would achieve what they did against Barça. Written off as failures, Chelsea were suddenly reborn under caretaker coach Roberto Di Matteo. Asked to explain the turnaround, and Ramires keeps coming back to one key factor: confidence.
“The team grew in confidence and that’s fundamental. If there’s no confidence, the ball doesn’t go to anyone’s feet and no one tries anything. When things go well, everyone grows and wants to play. And that’s what’s been happening,” said Ramires, who could just as easily be talking about his personal situation. Indeed, the Brazilian knows that it's only by playing games and growing in self-esteem that a player as shy as he is can gain stature in a dressing room containing veteran club icons like Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard.
“We know that that’s how football works. When you take your chances, you earn more respect and grow in stature in every way. That gives you more responsibility and also more belief to show your football,” said the midfielder, who was not shy about describing this season as "the best phase of my career”. And he says this in the knowledge that he will be experiencing a key moment in this period in exactly the same position he occupied in watching Brazil’s elimination when he took part in his first FIFA World Cup: in the stands.