La Liga Lowdown
Sergio Ramos And Sevilla: From Love To Fury
Written by Alan Feehely
“I’m Sevillista and I will be to the death. When I die, there will be two flags on my grave, one of Sevilla and the other of Madrid.”
- Sergio Ramos speaking to ABC in 2015
14th May 2005. Sevilla are playing Real Madrid at a sun-kissed Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán and it’s goalless 20 minutes into the first half. The hosts have a free-kick about 30 yards from goal and Sergio Ramos, their teenage defender, is standing over it.
The whistle goes and the ball is rolled. Ramos, in one fell swoop, steps up and fires the ball into the bottom left corner of the net past Iker Casillas. He sprints toward the Biris Norte, the supporters behind the goal, elated. Dani Alves jumps on his back as he shares a kiss with Jesús Navas.
12th January 2017. Madrid are back in Seville, wearing a purple strip not dissimilar to the blue one they wore in that game a dozen years ago. Ramos is playing again, but this time for the visitors. The game is at night, but the atmosphere is as hot as the Andalusian sun.
Madrid win a penalty and are two goals down. Ramos grabs the ball and steps up to the plate. He’s facing the Biris Norte, just like he was in 2005, but this time they’re singing a different tune. This time, it’s “Sergio Ramos, hijo de puta” or “Sergio Ramos, son of a whore”.
Ramos dinks a Panenka straight down the middle before eyeballing the Biris Norte. He turns and points to the name on the back of his shirt, livid. Marcelo grabs and kisses him but there’s no hint of a smile from the unrepentant prodigal son.
Ramos looks at the Biris Norte another time before again pointing to his name. He signals to the east and west of the stadium to signal his peace before making it clear that his discontent is directed behind the goal. A ustedes, he’s seen to say, pointing at the offending party. This is for you.
Ramos is a figure who’s always fascinated me. One of the most divisive characters in football, he carries himself with a supreme confidence perhaps unmatched by any other player and has the record to back it up.
Captain of Madrid and Spain, Ramos has won five LaLiga titles, two Copa del Reys, four Spanish Super Cups, four Champions Leagues, three European Super Cups, four Club World Cups, two European Championships and, of course, the 2010 World Cup.
His career has had many intriguing chapters, but living in Seville the one that I was most interested in was his relationship with Andalusia and his first club, Sevilla. Ramos has always painted himself as being proudly Andalusian, Sevillano and Sevillista, wearing a love of flamenco and bullfighting on his sleeve.
His strained relationship with Sevilla’s supporters seems to visibly pain him in a manner that conflicts with the bulletproof, hyper-masculine persona that he’s cultivated over the years. I wanted to understand the roots of this, so I started at the very beginning.
“Our mission is to win,” a young and assertive Ramos told his first interviewer. He began his career with Camas, his local club. Juanlu Angulo, its president, reminisced how Ramos behaved as a child. “He was always with a ball at his feet and he always played with children older than him,” Angulo told Marca. “He stood out.”
Ramos wasn’t the tough-tackling centre-back he is now when he was at Camas. He was a winger, with the skills and blonde bowl-haircut to earn himself comparisons with former Barcelona and Madrid player Bernd Schuster. “He went up and down the wing like lightning,” Angulo remembered. “He would overlap and break forward. Ramos also played with both feet, just like Schuster, so it wasn’t just because of his hair.”
By the time Ramos hit ten, Sevilla had come calling. “It wasn’t long before they took him,” Angulo said. “The old field at Camas was huge but it was too small for Sergio.” Ramos was part of a generation of promising local talent coming through the youth system at Sevilla, of the same class as future icons Navas and Antonio Puerta. Their emergence coincided with the revitalisation of Sevilla as a club.
“Sergio was a promising youngster at a time when the club was beginning to take off,” a source close to the club who asked to remain anonymous told me. “Sevilla had been going through a bad time and was glad to be able to count on the emergence of new talents from the youth system who could contribute to the growth of the club at zero cost. The supporters also always love seeing someone from the area succeed.”
Sevilla weren’t the club we know now. They had been relegated to Segunda in 2000 and were in the midst of institutional instability when Roberto Alés and then José María del Nido managed to steady the ship, bringing in former player Monchi as sporting director.
“Ramos was a huge star coming through the academy,” Colin Millar, author of The Frying Pan of Spain, a history of Sevilla’s rivalry with Real Betis, said. “His breakthrough came at a time when Seville were a club going places but were still rather economically fragile. There was a strict structure of leadership at the club as well as a wage limit. The sale of José Antonio Reyes has proved exceptionally unpopular amongst the fans and the club were keen to avoid a repeat of it.”
Reyes, like Ramos, was a local, hailing from nearby Utrera. He had joined the club aged 10, rising through the ranks to become an important part of the first team before leaving for Arsenal in 2004, much to the chagrin of the Sevilla faithful. Sevilla supporters are notorious for their high expectations and were intent to communicate to the hierarchy in power that they wanted to see their young talent flourish at the club which produced them.
Ramos was perhaps the brightest star of that next wave. “Sevilla knew they had unearthed a very talented defender,” Sevilla supporter Daz Radly told us. “Being a local lad, the general consensus throughout the club and in the stands was that he was a player who’d be around for quite a while and help the club grow.”
In the beginning, such a story looked on the cards. Ramos made his first-team debut, a matter of weeks after Reyes left, at Deportivo La Coruña but 2004/05 was his true breakthrough. Ramos became an important part of a Sevilla side that finished sixth to qualify for the UEFA Cup, playing 41 games and scoring against Real Sociedad, Madrid and Portuguese side CD Nacional.
“Sergio settled into the first-team set-up little by little,” an anonymous source explained. “He eventually hit such a level that even Dani Alves, who played in the same position as him, began looking over his shoulder. Sergio was a very important part of the team during his time there.”
His time there, however, was over before it truly began, with things coming to a head during the summer of 2005. “Playing such an important role and being recognised as a potentially world-class defender seemed to change him,” Daz added. “He said he would sign a lifetime contract and wanted to stay at the club, and there were rumours that his representatives had actually drafted a ten-year deal and handed it to del Nido.”
There was supposedly a clause within his contract that he would become club captain and would always be the highest earner at the club, and that his salary would be adjusted to match incoming signings or players who renewed their deals. Del Nido is said to have responded to this request by telling Ramos that an academy player will never be the highest earner at the club.
That didn’t go down well in the Ramos camp. Shortly after the negotiations broke down Madrid came in with a €27m offer for him. The details around who sanctioned and pushed through the move are sketchy to this day. “The president has always maintained that he didn’t sanction the sale and that it was the player who pushed for the transfer,” my source told me. “Ramos, on the other hand, denies this and says that the sale was agreed first.”
Whatever the truth, the offer was accepted, and Ramos moved to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Sevilla supporters, still raw after the Reyes saga, were incensed, and this time their ire was directed at the player, rather than the club. “For a player to leave the club in that fashion was like a girlfriend leaving you,” a source added. Radly agreed. “Shortly before his departure, he said that he wanted to be captain of Sevilla in its centenary year,” he said. “Breaking that promise was painful to the fans, who labelled him a traitor.”
The fact that it was Madrid made things worse. Seville is a curious city in that, while it’s proudly Spanish, it’s primarily Andalusian and Sevillano. You’re much more likely to find Sevilla and Betis shirts at the local five-a-side than Madrid or Barcelona shirts, and that’s a state of affairs very few cities in Spain can claim.
“For Ramos to leave and join Madrid, the one club Sevilla supporters really don’t want to see their players join, was the ultimate insult,” Millar assessed. “This is before you factor in the personality of Ramos, the manner in which he became a Madrid icon and his willingness and propensity to create friction with the Sevilla supporters when it suited him. It was the perfect melting pot.”
Ramos’ relationship with the Sevilla support has been rocky since the day he left. “There’s a lot of spite and resentment there,” our source revealed. “And instead of appeasing the fans and allowing the hatred to soften, Ramos has instead been rather unintelligent in his approach and increased the rancour.” Things came to a head in the aforementioned game at the Sánchez-Pizjuán in 2017, where Ramos drove the Sevilla supporters into such a rage that the noise they generated reached 100 decibels.
“I must admit that I was incredibly taken aback by the ferocity against him that night,” Millar said. “Sevilla fans wear shirts with a lot of famous ex-players’ names on the back, and if you leave the club, they generally continue to support you - that’s the culture of the club. It’s worth pointing out, however, that Ramos seems to generally regret all this with Sevilla and is adamant that he still supports them.”
For Radly, Ramos was very much complicit in the aggression generated. “He wasn’t the designated penalty-taker that day but took it in front of the Biris Norte, scoring a Panenka,” he said. “He then cupped his ears and pointed to the name on the back of his shirt, as if to say ‘you should be singing my name’. He is not liked at Sevilla. My neighbour has had a season ticket for 30 years and he’s still never called him by his name - he calls him Caraponi [an Andalusian insult a bit like horseface].”
Our source explained that the strange thing was the timing of the infamous clash in 2017, and how it had come during a period of eased tensions. “That game occurred in a moment of calm waters, and before and during the game the fans weren’t even particularly primed to abuse him,” he said.
“In fact, the level of hatred toward Ramos had been on the decline and there was a current of thought that argued it was necessary to turn the page and leave the controversy aside, but Ramos ruined it with his behaviour. I’ll never understand his attitude that day.”
Whether it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, the perception of Ramos in Seville is that he’s arrogant and has latched himself on to the Madrid machine with some solidity. The first time I started to question his relationship with his home city was when I was watching the 2018 Champions League final between Ramos’ Madrid and Liverpool in a bar in Alameda.
I was new to the city and when Madrid began to take the upper hand, with Ramos playing an integral role, I expected his fellow Sevillanos to revel in their local boy’s success. It was quite the opposite - the entire bar was shouting for Liverpool. This was mainly down to their hatred of Madrid, but given the noises made whenever Ramos got the close-up treatment from the television crew, he had a large part to do with it too.
It’s not just Sevilla supporters, either. For writer and Betis supporter Enrique Roldán, Ramos represents an identity he, as a proud Andalusian, finds abhorrent. “For me, Ramos is the best centre-back in Spain, but I don’t like what he represents,” he told us.
“He’s a Sevillista, sure, but also an example of an Andalusian who leaves and denies his roots. He kisses Madrid’s badge and proclaims it to be the best club in the world. He’s altered his accent so that it’s more castellano than andaluz, so while he maintains that he likes flamenco and all that, he’s a typical example of an Andalusian who leaves, does well and then changes fundamentally to fit in.”
There was also the matter of his wedding in the summer of 2019, an event that shut down Seville. I can distinctly remember being on a train from Jaén to Málaga the day of it and reading all about the elaborate ceremony in the papers. It was the reception and the afterparty, however, that sent the locals over the edge.
“I live a couple of kilometres from his family ranch, a stud farm called Yeguada SR4,” Radly told us. “All my neighbours at the time of the wedding were pretty annoyed. He closed part of the entrance and blocked off a lot of the lane access outside the urbanisation without any mention of this to the locals in the weeks leading up to the wedding. There was security everywhere and there was fireworks and loud music, including live bands, blaring until six in the morning. Our WhatsApp group went mental.”
Like everything in life and football, the story of Ramos and Sevilla isn’t black and white. If a footballer isn’t good enough, the supporters will dismiss him and the club will let him go mercilessly. It’s a harsh industry. When a footballer is not just good enough but capable of playing at a level higher than the club that produces him are at, it’s an altogether different scenario. The player holds the power.
In the case of Ramos, he felt undervalued by del Nido and, as a teenager, made a big decision to leave Sevilla for Madrid. I find Ramos to be a highly emotional and passionate character, in a manner that facilitated him going from being in love with his local club and intent on signing a ten-year deal to jumping ship to the perennial winning machine that reside in the Spanish capital.
As a youth, he internalised the hatred he received from the supporters who once loved him and used it to fuel his fire, even pouring petrol on it when he saw fit. As he matured and became a captain and a father, he sought for the Sevillistas to offer him an olive branch that he’d readily accept. Instead, they refused him even the hint of encouragement he craved, infuriating Ramos as best seen in that game back in 2017.
It’s a story that feels impossible to resolve, an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, a headstrong and highly-competitive young man pitted against a proud and wounded collective support. It’s hard to see how the relationship could be mended, for Ramos lives his life, on the pitch at least, at high volume and full speed, and the Sánchez-Pizjuán, and the city of Seville, is no place for shrinking violets.
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