The career of Ramires changed for good on 21 May 2009, the day the then Cruzeiro midfielder was called up by Dunga for Brazil's upcoming FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers and the FIFA Confederations Cup, at which he ended up in the starting XI. Shortly afterwards, his club announced the player’s departure for Benfica.
Though much has changed in the four years since then and Ramires has become a player who has tasted plenty of success in Europe. An important contributor to Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League triumph last season, the Brazilian is gunning for more silverware with the Londoners on Wednesday, when they take on his old employers Benfica in the UEFA Europa League final. Discussing that intriguing reunion and more, the 26-year-old spoke at length to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Ramires, does the fact you are playing Benfica in the UEFA Europa League final make it even more of a special occasion for you?
Ramires: I’ve still got a tremendous amount of affection for Benfica, not just because they opened the door to Europe for me but because of all the things I experienced there, how they welcomed me and how well everything turned out. I can only thank the club. As long as we’re not playing them I always support them, though unfortunately I’ll be hoping they lose on Wednesday (laughs). I’m happy for them too though, because like us they’re in a very important final.
David Luiz feels the same way, doesn’t he?
He does, and we’ve been talking about it. I get the feeling that it’s even more special for him because he came over at an even younger age and spent more time at Benfica. But the two of us are so happy at Chelsea that we won’t have any trouble forgetting about our affection for a little while, at least until we win the cup (laughs).
Do you watch Benfica’s matches?
I’ve watched them. I always watch them. They’re a very well-coached team, which comes as no surprise with [Jorge] Jesus in charge. He knows how to get the best out of every player. Think about it: every player the club signs does exactly what he wants. He was like that with us and he hasn’t changed. Benfica will be selling some of their players to other clubs at the end of the season, but you can be sure that the players they bring in, who’ll be less well-known, will fit in perfectly.
Is there any player you didn’t play with who has caught your eye?
I played alongside most of them. The left-back Andre [Almeida] is a guy who’s been playing very well, and I came up against Lima when he was at Braga – earlier in fact, at Santos. He’s another one who’s fitted in very well. So has [Nicolas] Gaitan. When he arrived he wasn’t that comfortable and now he’s doing well too. That’s the secret of Benfica’s success: to buy very good players and give them a warm welcome so that they can settle in quickly.
You adapted very quickly at Benfica and then did the same at Chelsea as well, didn’t you?
That’s right. I always try and pay attention to my surroundings when I arrive somewhere and find my feet as quickly as possible. I think I’ve been lucky up to now because I’ve come across a lot of people who’ve made me feel comfortable, though it’s not just down to that. I think I’ve managed to make the most of it. I’d never been out of Brazil but when I went to Benfica I trained well, got picked, scored in my first game and, luckily for me, I stayed in the side from then on. That’s how it was at Cruzeiro, the Brazil team and even at Joinville, where I started my career. I played in a training match between the first team and some juniors, me among them. The first team’s right-back wasn’t there, though, and the coach Vagner Benazzi put me there, right on the flank. I did well. I played as if my life depended on it, which in actual fact it did.
Talking of big games, you have another one on Wednesday. Can you feel just how different big European games are?
Wow, they’re totally different. When you play in a big international competition everyone turns round to watch you. Everyone talks about it. Ever since I scored that goal in the Champions League against Barcelona (in the second leg of the semi-final in 2011/12) people have been stopping me in the street to talk about it, no matter where I go. Though this isn’t a Champions League match, it’s between two teams who were in it and are both used to going a long way in it too. In actual fact, we’re the reigning European champions. That said, there’s no real difference because, when there’s a title at stake, all I want to do is win. That’s two years in a row now, with a Champions League final and now a Europa League final. A lot of people spend their whole lives dreaming of getting a chance like that.
Rafa Benitez has been giving you plenty of freedom to join the attack this season, hasn’t he?
Generally speaking, I’ve been playing in my old role as a holding midfielder but with more licence to push forward, though I always do whatever my coach asks me. When I play alongside [Frank] Lampard I generally sit a little bit deeper, like an out-and-out defensive midfielder. But when I’m with [John] Obi Mikel or David Luiz, I push up a little and they sit back and give some defensive cover. I always say though that these days you have to know how to play in at least two or three positions.
Just like David Luiz has been doing in midfield, rather than in defence.
Exactly. He’s a good example of that. And I’m really enjoying it too because I’ve got someone to share the midfield with and he also provides security for the defence, which leaves me free to push forward. That’s just how I like it (laughs). But, seriously, he’s done really well in that position and on top of all that he’s also a good defender and an excellent passer of the ball. He’s even started scoring goals now too.
Who knows, you might yet end up playing together in the FIFA World Cup on home soil?
Gosh, let’s hope so. I’ve got some unfinished business with A Seleção from the 2010 World Cup. I came off the pitch a happy man after the game against Chile. I played well and set up a goal too. It was my first start in a World Cup match and I never thought at the time it would be my last (Ramires picked up a third yellow card in that 3-0 defeat of Chile in the Round of 16 and was suspended for the quarter-final tie against the Netherlands, which Brazil lost after taking the lead). All I can think about now though is playing well for Chelsea so I can make the team and make up for it at home in 2014.
And it all starts with the FIFA Confederations Cup...
That’s right. It’s a tournament I’m always going to have a soft spot for. The 2009 competition was very important for me because, what with the qualifying matches as well, Dunga was already well on the way to putting his team together. I was one of the last players to come in. The Confederations Cup helped me break my way into the squad and earn my place, and we ended up winning it too.