By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
There are few finer defenders in world football than Sergio Ramos. The Sevilla-born stopper is a rarity in that, at the age of just 26, he has already excelled in two different playing positions for both Real Madrid and Spain. He is also one of one a handful of footballers to have featured in the starting XI of La Roja's three tournament triumphs in the last five years and is well on his way to achieving legendary status at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Strong and imposing in the air, technically adept on the ground, extremely fast and an excellent tackler, Ramos came to prominence as a full-back and made his name on the right side of the Blancos' defence, going on to become a world-class craftsman in that position, only to prove over the past 18 months that he is an ever better player at centre-back.
But he has a problem.
Ramos, although still young, has already received more red cards than any other player in the entire 111-year history of the club. The defender's dismissal in the Copa del Rey clash against Celta Vigo on Wednesday was his 15th sending off - 11 have come from two bookable offences and four from straight reds.
Ramos has since apologised on Twitter but was critical of his punishment and now needs to take time to reflect upon his actions, which have left Madrid desperately short of personnel as Pepe and Raul Albiol are both out injured. That means Jose Mourinho will be forced to field the previously out of favour Ricardo Carvalho alongside youngster Raphael Varane in the coming games. A promising partnership it may be, but it is hardly ideal.
Moreover, Ramos is far from a rugged centre-back forced to rely on dirty tricks to make up for other deficiencies. His only real weakness, in fact, is his discipline and alongside another notorious player like Pepe, Madrid's defence is reduced to a ticking time bomb in times of tension.
That has to change.
Pepe's moments of madness are well-documented, but the Portugal defender has managed to cut out some of the unsavoury aspects of his game this season. Now Ramos must do the same.
Sergio has already seen red twice against Barcelona, once for kicking out at Lionel Messi in 2010 and then following an alleged elbow on Sergio Busquets last year. The Andalusian is a no-nonsense defender but his unprecedented collection of reds suggests he needs to strike a balance between what is hard and what is fair. He would also do well to take a look at his angry attitude towards the officials themselves.
Some in Spain have blamed Mourinho for creating a hostile stance with referees, claiming that the ill feeling filters down to the players and gives them a grudge against the game's arbiters from the outset, but Ramos is a big boy now and has been picking up red cards on a consistent basis ever since 2005. Not everything should be pinned on his boss.
Ramos' red card against Celta left Madrid exposed and Mourinho's men needed two fine saves from Iker Casillas, at 3-2 on aggregate, to stay ahead in the tie. Next time they may not be so lucky.
The 26-year-old has never been dismissed for Spain in almost 100 appearances - perhaps he is more respectful and restrained when he represents his country - and this is the kind of attitude he must adopt at club level to avoid leaving his team in the lurch.
On a personal level, he can benefit too. Ramos can and should go down as one of the game's great defenders; he possesses all of the attributes to shine at the back for many more years to come and has already claimed a considerable number of titles for both club and country. It would be a real shame if poor discipline detracted from all of that.
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