LA LIGA REVIEW

Cost of Mourinho’s in-house mind games

The Real Madrid captaincy is turning into a poisoned chalice this season

Sergio Ramos: bitter 16.
Sergio Ramos: bitter 16.ÁNGEL DÍAZ / EFE

Being Real Madrid captain this season means being the object of suspicion, not being above it. Iker Casillas was dethroned by José Mourinho before Christmas, with his goalkeeping stand-in Antonio Adán trotting out on to the field in Málaga to begin an unhappy sequence of performances that has now seen the unassuming reserve slide even further down the pecking order. Now, with Casillas absent with a broken hand, Sergio Ramos is the latest star player wearing the armband of doom.

After Real Madrid had tied with Manchester United in last week’s Champions League first leg, he was shamed, if not specifically named, by his knavish superior, for his direct contribution to the visiting team’s goal from a corner. For Sunday night’s game against Rayo Vallecano, Ramos was pushed back to his less-favored old position of right back to make way in the center of defense for the emerging talent of Raphaël Varane.

But after scoring Real’s second goal in the 12th minute (the game was to end 2-0), Ramos found himself ushered toward the showers on the quarter-hour mark. Of the Andalusian’s remarkable tally of 16 red cards earned in Real Madrid colors, it was surely the harshest, with a fairly innocuous challenge on Rayo’s Leo Baptistão and a handball near the sideline earning him two rapid-fire yellow cards.

Still tense on leaving the stadium, Ramos seemed to respond to recent criticism from his coach: “Everyone is free to say what they want. But I was brought up to never point the finger at anyone, least of all a colleague, when they make a mistake.”

But at least Ramos, for his undisputed quality, remains an unquestionable element in the Real squad. Unlike Adán. The sub had never been highly rated and Mourinho’s move to promote him from the role of perpetual understudy always felt more like a motivational ploy directed at Casillas, rather than the search for a genuine alternative between the sticks. An iffy game at Málaga and a red card against Sociedad in the Bernabéu that was even quicker than Ramos’s put an end to his run. Then came Casillas’ injury, which saw Real rush to buy the seasoned Diego López before the transfer window closed. So back to number-two status. It could, however, still get worse. For the Rayo game, Adán was demoted even from the bench, with the substitute keeper’s place given to Jesús Fernández, the second choice at Real Madrid’s second-team, Castilla.