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Author Sid LoweSpain

If you were president of Real Madrid, would you release Sergio Ramos? We asked Sergio Ramos. There was the slightest hint of a pause – even a small smile – and the answer came quickly.

I would renew his contract for life, he said.

But Sergio Ramos is not the president of Real Madrid, it’s Florenntino Perez. And this question was asked in May 2019. After eighteen months, there is still no renewal, extension or contract agreement. You can’t really tell either. Instead, his business collapsed – all but the last six months, with the end in sight. One. In July, Sergio Ramos – the man who played 666 games with Real Madrid and won 22 trophies – can go wherever he wants for free. For the past week, he was allowed to talk to whomever he wanted.

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The point is, the person he really, really wants to talk to will take the time to talk to him. At least not on his terms. Not yet. Not yet. Rather, the interviews are conducted in public, but by proxy. There’s a lot of pride and a lot of politics. The pages are crowded, stories are told, but no solution has been found. The line has been crossed. Ramos is in his 16th season at the club and has just six months left on his contract at Real Madrid.

He also doesn’t have an offer to continue, or he does.

After all, it may be nothing, and smart money says it probably will be. For some people watching the game – and playing sometimes seems like the right word – there’s a certain weariness, a sense of déjà vu, so what? You’ve already heard some of these cheesy stories. And even now, at this advanced stage of Ramos’ contract, it seems that despite all the discussions, he will eventually extend his contract and stay in Madrid.

But this is very different than in the past, especially from a legal standpoint, and the fact that it has come to this is something special.

Error! The file name is not specified. Ramos is Mr Madrid, but could his 16-year term suddenly end this summer? Diego Souto/Sports Quality Images/Getty Images

After all these years… Ramos is now 34. He came to us when he was 19. it would be strange to see him anywhere else. Especially for him. Also for Zinedine Zidane. Ramos, Lucas Vazquez and Luca Modric are finishing their contracts. So far, no one has come to an agreement: There are few problems with Modric, Vazquez refused the first offer, and then Ramos came along. Zidane wants them all to stay, especially his captain. It’s good for everyone, the Madrid coach said. We want to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

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Normally, a player over the age of 30 is only offered a one-year contract extension, but according to reports from Real Madrid, they have offered Ramos a two-year contract that will take him to the age of 36. According to the club’s version, Ramos will be offered the same terms as now – between 12 and 13 million euros per year, after tax, minus the 10 percent discount applied to the entire team due to the financial crisis.

The word from Ramos’ camp is, no, they didn’t. According to this version of events, he didn’t really get an offer. We suspect the club is not so keen on keeping it. Having reached this point, Ramos reportedly told Perez at the team hotel shortly before the start of the year that he would now listen to the other clubs (as if he hadn’t done so before). Many of Real Madrid’s rivals across Europe are watching us, if only because they would be crazy not to.

That day, in late May 2019, when Ramos said that if he were Perez, he would have given him a lifetime contract, he also said they were like father and son. He said Perez had always shown a special affection for him, that they loved each other very much. He also admitted that he was not upset about the way he was treated. And because he argued that confrontation brings love – and asked who hasn’t had an argument with their father? — Their relationship was and remains difficult.

Error! The file name is not specified. Game

1:27

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That day Ramos was at the Bernabeu to publicly announce his travels. Earlier in the season, he and Perez had a meeting after Ajax’s game, which he missed due to a disqualification. Pay me and I’ll go, he said. Soon after, he asked Real Madrid to let him go to China for free. Perez blocked it, as well as Ramos’ attempt to join Manchester United in 2015.

So the threat of Ramos leaving was very real, very real. A strategy has been developed. Ramos pushed, although he ultimately failed to cross the line. But Madrid had just lost true captain Iker Casillas, and Perez couldn’t afford to let his vice-captain Ramos go either. Ramos entered the meeting ready to go, his argument prepared, determined to force the issue. But Perez, under pressure but still in control, would not let that happen.

It was two men facing each other, no one else – Jose Angel Sanchez, Real’s CEO, and René Ramos, Sergio’s brother and agent, were not allowed in – it was a long, long and sometimes infuriating watch. Many things were said, and many of them were unpleasant. Perez told Ramos he can’t and won’t let him go. Just, no. Say what you want, you’re not going. Madrid was all Perez had, and no one would compromise that. There were promises, but also threats.

In 2015, Ramos had two years left on his contract, which expires in May 2019, and he felt he had no choice but to retire: He knew how it would be sold – how it had actually been sold – and couldn’t listen to the whistles of his fans, which brought him to a sad and bitter end. He suffered too many losses and was not allowed to win.

In return, he got a new contract and the crisis ended, as it often does. While Ramos had to retire, Perez also had to move up the ladder, nearly doubling the defender’s salary. This was not his original goal, though many have speculated since, but it was a good result. Over time, the situation has improved. There is no doubt that he was right. For everyone.

Error! The file name is not specified. 1 A9 Ramos is still a mainstay for Madrid, not only in defence but also in terms of performances in big games where he has scored important goals against rivals like Barcelona. Alejandro Rios/DeFody Images via Getty Images

Ramos is 34 years old, but he remains as important as ever; he is probably the best captain the club has ever had, someone who symbolises Madrid like no other. He is an authority figure, more powerful than any other player. More powerful than anyone else at the club, in fact… except Perez. Ramos has been the best player since then and has won more than he could have imagined. As captain, he won two league titles and three European Cups.

What he didn’t get was a new contract, and the scars (and distrust) remain. Somehow the gap has widened. In May 2019 – when the president again had the power to enforce his contract – Ramos noted that he and Perez needed to sit down and talk without anyone else intervening. He said one of the flaws was the entorno, the environment: It’s a whirlwind of politics, noise and interest.

But after two years, the noise continues. The difference is that it has entered a phase that it has not yet reached: the last phase, the last six months. So the story is told from all sides – with the media as spokespeople – and two proud and powerful men who don’t quite fit together. I didn’t like the story that evaporated, Ramos said at the time. And he knows exactly why and where it happened. Just like you are now. They are.

Error! The file name is not specified. Ramos, left, and Perez, right, have a tumultuous relationship, but you get the feeling they could negotiate an extension into the summer. Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

So there are stories about Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, about how Ramos and Lionel Messi became teammates somewhere. So there are conflicting versions of events. So the fault lies with different men, depending on who you read or listen to. And guilt is important. The story, too… on both sides. And so now there is a dead end.

Most players over the age of 30 are only allowed one year, Ramos deserves better, he rightly believes. He was offered more, Madrid says. Not just because of who he was, but because of who he is, which is probably still their most important player. He has earned the right to expect a good offer from Madrid and to listen to offers from elsewhere. Whether any of them will be as good as this one is another question, in a world where COVID-19 has left its mark on all those Perez called our wreck.

All of this gets them into a mess that shouldn’t have gone this far, but for many reasons. The solution now requires change; someone has to give way. These are not men who like to surrender, but they don’t have to go far either.

There is always the unmistakable feeling that all of this could ultimately be irrelevant and that Ramos remains unthinkable at another club, which is just a way of temporarily avoiding the inevitable, the only thing that makes sense. There is a Spanish expression that seems appropriate at this time: These are people who are doomed to understand each other.

There is another simple solution: the one that Ramos himself has decided to offer a lifetime deal in May 2019.

I’d play for free here, he said.

sid lowe | espn,phil kitromilides,gabriele marcotti,julien laurens

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