In the absence of captain Carles Puyol, Vicente del Bosque will look to Sergio Ramos to lead his defence at Euro 2012. Puyol’s injury will see Ramos move from his customary right-back slot for the national team into the centre to play alongside Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, whose shaky form this season will heighten the expectations on Ramos to successfully organise the defence.
Importantly then, the former Sevilla defender heads into the tournament on the back of perhaps his best season yet in a Real Madrid shirt. It was one which started tentatively and by mid-September the club had already dropped five points. A concerning 0-0 draw with Racing Santander saw Jose Mourinho partner Ricardo Carvalho with youngster Raphael Varane, with Ramos left to rue a spot on the bench. It was enough to prompt the Andalusian to tell Mourinho that: “if you put me in the middle, you won’t regret it. I’ll play out of my skin!”
It was a turning point in the defender’s career at the Bernabeu and a pivotal moment to his team’s campaign. With Ramos at the helm of the defence, Madrid won 20 out of their next 21 League fixtures establishing an unsurpassable lead at the top of the table. Although his infamous penalty miss helped Bayern Munich to a shoot-out victory over the Spaniards in the Champions League semi-finals, it was nevertheless a season to remember for the 26-year-old. Madrid finally appeared to have found the Spanish leader in their defence that has been absent since Fernando Hierro retired. Statistics reflected his newfound concentration, with 221 interceptions only bettered by Mallorca’s Chico and Sevilla’s Emir Spahic. Whilst Real’s strikers took headlines and records at the other end, Ramos went a long way to ensuring Los Blancos were rarely troubled at the back during their campaign.
In replacing Puyol at the heart of the Spanish back-line, Ramos will now be expected to show similar levels of competitiveness and leadership. The lapses in concentration and the occasional lackadaisical defending that have punctuated much of his Madrid career look to have been erased. Importantly, they will need to be too, if Spain are to replicate their performances in the 2010 World Cup, when they conceded just twice in seven matches. However, such has been Ramos’ form, Del Bosque’s concern will be at Pique. Not only will Ramos have to replicate the infectious influence of Puyol, he will need to bring out the best in his central defensive partner, whose off-colour performances caused his club Coach Pep Guardiola much consternation this season.
Speaking before the tournament, Ramos highlighted the value of the consistent spine which has comprised the heart of the team since 2008: “We've had a core team for years, something other sides don't have.”
Over the coming weeks Ramos will become an increasingly integral part of that core. His performances will determine not only how successful Spain will be this summer, but will also inform Del Bosque whether he has the long-term heir to Puyol at the heart of his defence.