• Sasha Podzorov

After 16 Years at Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos' Contract Won't Be Renewed

Sergio Ramos speaks at his farewell press conference. After 16 years, the center back will leave Real Madrid this summer.

There are certain football players you never expect to leave their longtime club. It’s rare, but the best of the best seem to have that kind of effect on their teams. Players like Andres Iniesta, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard — just to name a few — had become synonymous with their club’s identity and vision, that it seems awkward envisioning them in another jersey. So imagine just how weird it will be to see Sergio Ramos, after years of dedication to Real Madrid, donning a jersey in front of his home supporters that isn’t gallantly white with gold trim.

The thing is, Ramos probably thinks the same himself.

“The first thing I want to say is that I never wanted to leave,” Ramos said at his final press conference as a Madrid player. “I wanted to stay here.”

And why wouldn’t he want to stay at Real? Ramos won 22 major trophies with the club, the second-most in its storied history, trailing club legend Franciso Gento by only one. He became a club legend after a 93rd minute equalizer in the 2014 Champions League Final against rival Atletico Madrid, which paved the way for a triumphant 4-1 victory in extra time. A season later, in the 2015/16 season, Ramos earned the honor of full-time club captain. That season, despite losing La Liga’s title race by one point, Real Madrid won their first of three consecutive Champions League titles.

Despite his legacy, Real Madrid decided that this summer, it was time to move on from Ramos.

Why Now?

Covid-19 has left clubs in tremendous amounts of disarray. Without the influx of ticket sales for over a full calendar year, many of Europe’s top clubs have seen their debts skyrocket. Add in careless spending in the 2019-20 transfer window with a net expenditure of $242 million (including $126.5 million on the often injured Eden Hazard) and a $650 million renovation to the Santiago Bernabeu, one can understand why Real Madrid were hesitant to re-sign Ramos to a deal worth close to his current ~$431,000 weekly wage.

"In the last months, Real Madrid offered me an offer of 1 year with 10% less salary. The money was never the problem,” Ramos said of his contract negotiations. “I wanted 2 years, then I accepted the proposal... but the contract renewal offer had an expiration date, and I didn't know about it.”

Madrid’s decision to not renew the centerback’s contract precedes a summer that could see a roster overhaul. As is, the club has seen the departure of manager Zinadine Zidane (replaced by former manager Carlo Ancelotti) and the arrival of Austrian center back David Alaba on a free transfer. But a report from Spanish outlet Diario AS signifies that other than Ramos, eight players are rumored to be on Madrid’s chopping block, including Raphael Varane, Marcelo, Isco, Mariano, and loan returnees Gareth Bale, Luka Jovic, Dani Ceballos and Álvaro Odriozola.

The proposed departures of Varane, Marcelo, Carvajal and Odriozola would put major trust into Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez at center back and right back, respectively. And Bale has had a decent resurgence on loan at Tottenham and performed well so far at Euro 2020, not to mention his bond with Carlo Ancelotti. But Madrid have their eyes set on young superstars Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland, and acquiring them won’t be cheap.

So, much akin to former La Liga rival Luis Suarez’s last transfer window, Ramos has been outcast from the club he has meant so much to and will sign elsewhere on a free transfer.

Can Ramos still contribute to a top club?

The short answer is yes, of course. Sergio Ramos is one of the best defenders of all time, and despite his age, is still fully capable of starting for one of Europe’s top clubs.

Compare Ramos to Thiago Silva, who is about a year and a half older and also moved on a free transfer from PSG to Chelsea a season ago. In the 2020/21 UCL campaign, Ramos played five matches/424 minutes, while Silva played seven matches/528 minutes. They both had two tackles and two blocks, and similar pass accuracy (91% for Ramos. 93% for Silva). Ramos recovered less balls (30) and completed less clearances (11) than Silva (43 and 18 respectively), but also scored two goals and provided an assist for Los Blancos.

Even at 35, Ramos' versatility as an aerial threat and penalty kick taker will increase interest, even if his defending ability isn't the same as in his prime.

What’s next for Ramos and Madrid?

Despite injury concerns that left the 36-year-old off of Spain’s Euro 2020 roster, many of Europe’s top clubs have already been linked with the center back, including both Manchester clubs and PSG.

Ramos did rule out two specific La Liga clubs as his next destination: a reunion with Sevilla and Barcelona, staying true to his Madrid roots.

Without Ramos shoring up the back line, Real Madrid are not only losing a more than capable defender, but also a leader on the pitch and in the locker room that is the epitome of their recent success.

"I believe that we don't have to speak about the importance of Sergio [Ramos] for Real Madrid," Kroos said in a press conference last week.

"He has always been a great teammate and a great captain, he has been the best captain that I have had in my career.”

Spain national team manager Luis Enrique sees the same.

"When you see him [Ramos] compete, he understands that he is a chosen one, he already knew that,” Enrique said in Sept. 2018 before his first match as national team manager.

"He is a great leader in any situation, a person who drags in and out. I am delighted with him. I expected a very high level, but in this case he has surpassed [my expectations]."

And as Ramos tearfully said his goodbyes, he left supporters with a message: this past season wasn’t the last time he’ll be playing for Los Blancos.

“I’ll come back here one day, I’m sure. I want to say a huge thanks to Real Madrid, I will always carry you in my heart.”

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