A first season abroad can prove a minefield for any professional footballer, however talented they may be. Throw in other factors such as being asked to play in an unfamiliar position and the pressure to remain in national-team contention and you have a cocktail even the most reliable performers would struggle to stomach.
Not Ramires Santos do Nascimento, however, who in less than a year has made a smooth transition from promising talent at Cruzeiro to Seleção regular and key member of Benfica’s finest side for many a year. “I’ve found it really easy to adapt to all aspects at life at Benfica,” the 22-year-old midfielder told FIFA.com.
“When the transfer came about, I was worried that things wouldn’t go this well. I knew that I wouldn’t have any problems with the language, but everything else was uncertain,” added a player who took his first steps on the footballing ladder in the youth ranks of Joinville, in Santa Catarina state.
What is more, on the day his switch to the Lisbon giants was announced, 21 May 2009, Ramires was also called up to the Brazilian senior national team squad for the very first time. The hard-running midfielder admits the two events really hammered home just how much progress he was making in his career, particularly given the matches on the agenda for Dunga’s side at the time: vital 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers with Uruguay and Paraguay as well as the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.
In forcing his way into the Auriverde coach’s plans, Ramires was thus able to outdo the likes of fellow midfield up-and-comers Hernanes, Lucas or Anderson, all of whom have so far failed to turn their selection for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 into regular involvement at senior level.
After making his debut in the 4-0 qualifying win over Uruguay in Montevideo, coming on as a substitute for Elano, he earned his first start in A Seleção’s second FIFA Confederations Cup encounter against the USA, with Elano again making way. It was a chance he seized with both hands, playing a part in two of Brazil’s goals in the 3-0 success and nailing a starting berth for the reminder of the tournament.
Talent and versatility
A Canarinha went on to win the title at South Africa 2009, with Ramires being officially unveiled as a Benfica player 20 days later. And having turned out for Os Encarnados for the first time the following day, he quickly became an integral part of a high-scoring and free-flowing team under the command of former Braga boss Jorge Jesus.
“At Cruzeiro I was playing further back, catching teams out with runs from deep. At Benfica I’m playing a more right-sided role, with both attacking and defensive responsibilities, similar to where I’ve played for the Seleção,” explains Ramires.
Indeed, it is a role that well suits his blend of skill, speed, lung power and marking ability, as evidenced by the vital support he offered to attacking trio Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano on South African soil and to club-mates Angel Di Maria, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola and Oscar Cardozo this season at the Estadio da Luz.
Given Benfica team-mate Luisao’s status as first reserve to Brazil’s first-choice central-defensive pairing of Lucio and Juan, Ramires is the only Portugal-based Brazilian likely to start for A Seleção at South Africa 2010. So, what does he make of the fact that his homeland and his adopted country were both drawn in Group G? “Portugal have a great team and above all else are a strong unit, who have grown used to playing in decisive games in recent years,” he said.
“As well as Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco, they’ve got the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Simao Sabrosa and Liedson, who has made a successful career for himself over here. I think everyone agrees that these two national teams could meet again later on in the competition, be it in the semi-final or even in the Final. That would be good for everybody.”
“Some of my friends and staff members here at Benfica have already started joking around, telling me that Portugal are going to win,” said Ramires of the pair’s group meeting scheduled for 25 June in Durban. “Others have been more diplomatic and said that they think both countries will already have booked their place in the next round by the time the game is played.”
“It’s all been good fun, but before anything else I want to guarantee my place in the squad. I can’t start thinking about the game against Portugal before I know if I’m going to be in South Africa or not,” said the player, showing a mature head on his young shoulders as the interview drew to a close.
“Until then I’ve got to keep fighting for my place and putting everything I’ve got into every passage of play. I think that’s the least I can do when I’m defending the colours of Benfica and A Seleção. If I do that, the rest should fall into place.”