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Sergio Ramos — did he or didn't he?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 31 - 05 - 2018

It's impossible to know for certain whether Sergio Ramos intended to actually do physical harm to Mohamed Salah to the point of forcing him out of Saturday's Champions League final.
Up until the 30th minute, Real Madrid's defence was being outhustled by Liverpool's live wire Salah and his two electric cohorts Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
That all changed when Ramos took matters literally into his own hands, slamming Salah's shoulder into the ground while holding on to his arm.
It was definitely a turning point in the game. Salah's exit deflated Liverpool as the momentum started to swing Real's way, ending 3-1 for Real's 13th Champions League title and third in succession.
So, what happened? Ramos' intentions remain unclear and maybe always will. The wrestle appeared calculated in the way Ramos held Salah's arm. Ramos could have let go just before impact but he didn't, upping the odds of an injury.
Ramos definitely wanted to bring Salah down – but down and out? We just cannot say with fact whether Ramos had any nefarious intentions. The safer conclusion is that Ramos simply wanted to send a message to Salah that this final would not be a jaunt in the park. The busted shoulder might have been an unintended bonus point.
Right after the terrible tumble, Ramos sent ambiguous mixed signals. He was caught with a big grin on his face. But he also hugged Salah as the Egyptian left the field in tears. In a tweet, he wished Salah well with his recovery.
The Egyptian public, though, had no doubts about Ramos' crude tackle whatsoever. For downing their beloved hero, drastically lessening Liverpool's chances of winning the Champions League and Egypt performing respectably in the World Cup, Ramos, who was not even yellow carded — it was not even called a foul — was instantly branded Public Enemy No 1. Whether at TV screens or social media, Egyptians spewed expletives at Ramos that cannot be printed (‘'Ramos is a dog,'' one trending topic on Twitter, is the best we can do).
Just one day after the final, more than 202,000 people had signed a petition calling for Ramos to be “punished” for his tackle.
But wait. You don't win a World Cup, a European Championship twice, plus four Champions League crowns by being Cinderella. While tenaciously guarding his net, Ramos has had to face the world's best teams and their best strikers, doing so with resolute skill and unyielding power. His job as a central defender is simple: Don't let your opponent score, and as captain of Real Madrid and Spain, he does that task better than most.
In hauling down Salah, Ramos was just doing his job, as defenders have been doing since the start of soccer. That's what he gets paid to do, in the millions of dollars.
Ramos would not be the first to bend the rules – or bend a player – to achieve the required results. Pele, the greatest player of the time, was so brutally hacked in the 1966 World Cup by Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders that he could not continue, after which Brazil could not defend its title.
In 1982, Diego Maradona of Barcelona was on the short end of a horrendous tackle from Athletic Club defender Andoni Goikoetxea who broke the ankle of the Argentinian great. Goikoetxea, who became better known as the ‘Butcher of Bilbao', later proceeded to break the leg of Barça's German international Berndt Schuster.
Goikoetxea was a notorious hit man who would get nowhere near a football pitch in today's game which is far better regulated.
But hard men in football are not extinct. High stakes and a lot money ensure ferocity lives in the game. And injuries are a sad fact of life in a contact sport like football. Big stars are not exempt. Egypt's first-string goalkeeper Ahmed Shennawi will not be going to Russia, nor will Tunisia's best player Youssef Mesakni or Brazil's famed right back Danny Alvis, all lost to injuries that might have been completely avoidable. But those are the hard knocks of the game.
Football, like so many other sports, is a game of inches. It's very possible that had Salah fallen a centimetre this way or that, he would have bounced right back up, as if nothing had happened, as he has done before against so many other tackles. He was just unlucky that this particular body slam hit the wrong spot.
It could also be argued that even had Salah stayed on the pitch the entire game, neither he nor 10 other Mo's could have done anything about Gareth Bale's extraordinary bicycle kick or the hopeless, helpless and hapless Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius who made two catastrophic howlers. It was simply Real Madrid's night and Liverpool's nightmare.
These are hypotheticals we will never know the answers to. What is clear is that for some, the Ramos tackle is blatant cheating while for others it is the reality of the game at the top level. Ramos did what is required to win.
The Independent summed it up best: ‘The end will always justify the meanness'.
The trophy is all that matters; nothing else.


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