The 90th-minute man

"Those criticising me now should enjoy themselves because I'm going to shut them up in the end.” These are the words of Sergio Ramos after he gave away a late penalty in Spain’s World Cup qualifier against Italy that meant the game ended in a draw. A win would have seen La Roja take complete control of the group and beat the Italians away from home in a competitive game for the first time ever. As usually is the case, the Spanish media needed a scapegoat, and Ramos was their man.

On Saturday evening in the Clasico at Camp Nou, the 30-year-old kept his word by scoring an 89th-minute equaliser to maintain Real Madrid’s crucial six-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

Answering his critics seems to be something that Ramos enjoys doing, given the frequency with which it happens. As a defender who leaves everything on the pitch and wears his heart on his sleeve along with his captain’s armband, he is prone to allowing recklessness to creep into his game, making rash decisions in the heat of the moment. The fact that he has been sent off 21 times for Los Blancos, a club record, proves this beyond doubt.

But that element of his game and personality is what makes Ramos such an exciting player to watch. There is nothing better than watching the Andalusian while his team are in desperate need of a goal. He will drive forward from the back to create opportunities for his teammates, and his fondness for a late, headed goal and the pure passion that he exhibits when the ball hits the back of the net is something you could watch over and over.

His latest goal was his 62nd for Madrid, an incredible record for a centre-back, and it only adds to the long list of vital goals he has scored through the years. Before his most famous late one in the 2014 Champions League final, there was a double against Bayern Munich in the semi-final, and since then there have been headers in the Club World Cup final and European Super Cup final. He is the ultimate, big-game player.

When the criticism of Ramos resurfaced in October, his former Coach Carlo Ancelotti made sure everyone knew exactly what he thought of him.

“He only provides experience, quality, character and trophies… doesn't that seem enough to you?” he told Marca. “You can’t argue about Sergio Ramos. He’s a very complete defender. Sergio Ramos has everything: Cannavaro was fantastic in the air, Baresi commanded his defence and others for the character they gave their teams. Sergio Ramos is the most complete, who ties together the best features.”

In England, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United sides often scored late goals, with added time becoming known as ‘Fergie time’. In Spain, Ramos has made the last few minutes of matches his own. After another late goal on Saturday, he posted a picture on Instagram with the caption, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ This sums up the attitude and desire of a man who seems to have had a lot of luck throughout his career.