The rise of Ramires and his descent from prominence

The rise of Ramires and his descent from prominence

Ramires Santos do Nascimento spent five-and-a-half seasons at Chelsea, making 251 appearances and winning every major trophy on offer in that time. However, when he became one of the first high-profile players to move from a top European league to China, relatively little was made of his departure, and he was quite quickly forgotten by the majority of neutrals.

Despite only being 31 years of age, it seems his career is well past its peak now; Ramires hasn’t been selected for his national team since 2014 and recently dropped into the reserves at his current club, Jiangsu Suning. 

His rapid rise to the upper echelons of European football and equally swift decline took place within the space of a decade. While there’s no doubting that, even he if he were to retire tomorrow, he’d be able to look back on his own career with a great deal of fondness, not least because of his hugely impressive trophy haul, it’s hard to recall too much about his time in England beyond that glorious Champions League semi-final goal against Barcelona in 2012.

It didn’t take Ramires long to ascend the footballing ladder. At the age of 20 he signed for Cruzeiro, following a successful spell on loan from Joinville. He continued to impress after making the switch to the Belo Horizonte club permanent. Following his third and final season at Cruzeiro, Ramires won the Bola de Prata in 2008, awarded to the best midfielder in Brazil’s top-flight, and was also named in the Brasileiro team of the year.

As well as performing consistently to pick up these awards, his 11 goals in all competitions set the precedent for him scoring a healthy amount of goals, usually from a deep-lying midfield role, throughout his career. 

His form in 2008 earned him a move to Portugal’s most successful club side, Benfica, in a deal reportedly worth €7.5m. Despite signing a five-year contract, Ramires’ stay in the Portuguese capital lasted just one season – although he made it count, winning both the Primeira Liga and Taça da Liga in the 2009/10 campaign.

Despite generally plying his trade in the centre of midfield, he was mostly used as a right-winger in Benfica’s impressive run to the Europa League quarter-finals – an early indicator of his versatility across several positions. Indeed, that and the four goals and six assists he contributed as Benfica won their first title since 2005 didn’t go unnoticed by Dunga, the Brazil manager at the time.

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Ramires’ move to Benfica coincided with his first call-up to the national team, coming off the bench as they thumped Uruguay 4-0 en route to qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. He achieved another landmark for the Seleção the following summer, netting his first two goals in an international friendly against Tanzania.

A matter of weeks later he travelled to the World Cup in South Africa. Despite only making appearances off the bench in all three of Brazil’s group games, he took his opportunity by the scruff of the neck when handed his first start in the round of 16 against Chile, assisting Robinho for the third goal and producing a fine overall display.

However, a yellow card picked up in the latter stages of that contest saw him suspended for Brazil’s quarter-final loss to the Netherlands. Following the match, Dunga blamed their defeat on the absence of Ramires in midfield, demonstrating what a vital cog the Benfica man had already become for his national side. 

Shortly after the 2010 World Cup, he joined a Chelsea side managed by Carlo Ancelotti, costing just shy of £20m. Ludicrously, it sounds like pennies by today’s standards, particularly for a club of Chelsea’s financial might, but if we adjust for Premier League market inflation over time, that deal would’ve been worth around £42m pounds in 2018. While it’s not earthshattering, especially for a promising 23-year-old Brazil international, it’s still a fair amount to fork out for someone whose only experience in European football was a single season in Portugal.  

Clearly Ancelotti had seen something in him, however, and Chelsea certainly got their money’s worth out of him over the next few seasons. The player who would later be affectionately dubbed ‘Rambo’ by the Chelsea faithful made 41 appearances in his first season in England, but with just 22 starts in the league, he wasn’t quite a permanent fixture in the side yet.

He was used sporadically on the right of midfield, but generally deployed as a box-to-box midfielder with slightly more emphasis on defensive duties. The following season was his most productive in a Chelsea shirt, both in terms of goal contributions and trophies won. Twelve goals in 47 appearances is an impressive return for a player whose position still shifted from right-midfield to holding midfield, and occasionally to a more advanced central role.

His goal return benefitted from an impressive FA Cup campaign, as he netted four times in six matches, including the opening strike in the final against Liverpool. While he also racked up seven assists in all competitions, by far and away his most memorable and significant contribution during the 2011/12 season, and probably throughout his whole Chelsea career, came in that famous Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. 

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Fernando Torres’ last-gasp goal may have put Chelsea’s progression beyond doubt but that folklore-worthy dink from Ramires was the goal which, against all the odds, had already put the Blues on the brink of the Champions League final. They went on to win their first ever European Cup, beating Bayern Munich on penalties in the final, an achievement made possible by Ramires’ daring burst from midfield and the ingenuity he showed to lift his finish perfectly over the onrushing Víctor Valdés.

This moment of magic seems all the more impressive when you consider Ramires had been booked just two minutes prior to his goal – a yellow card which he knew would see him suspended for the final were Chelsea to turn it around. The ability to put that devastating personal blow out of his mind and turn the tie on its head moments later is the sign of a selfless team player, the symbol of the unsung hero in football, and one of the reasons why he is thought of with so much affection by Chelsea fans.

The season following their Champions League triumph, Ramires was arguably even more indispensable for his club, racking up the most appearances he ever made in a single season – 62. This was in no small part due to him starting all but one of Chelsea’s European fixtures as they won the Europa League for the first time in their history, beating Ramires’ former club Benfica in the final.

He also enjoyed another healthy campaign in terms of goal contributions, netting nine times and chipping in with eight assists while mostly being deployed in a central or holding midfield role by Roberto Di Matteo and later Rafael Benítez. It speaks volumes about the Brazilian’s versatility that Chelsea were willing to sell fellow central-midfielder Raul Meireles and loan out Michael Essien before the season started, leaving John Obi Mikel, Oriol Romeu and an ageing Frank Lampard as the only other available players in that role.

Despite a managerial change midway through the season, Ramires was rarely left out of the side, with only Torres, Juan Mata, Oscar and Petr Čech making more appearances for Chelsea in 2012/13.

The following year saw José Mourinho return to Stamford Bridge. Despite only playing 46 times that season, there’s no doubt Ramires was still a first-team regular. He had featured heavily in the first part of the campaign, only to miss six of the last eight Premier League fixtures through a combination of being rested and suspension, and once again, only four players in the Chelsea squad made more appearances than him all season. Ramires’ goal and assist figures dropped off slightly, registering four and five respectively in all competitions, and he experienced a rare trophyless season as well.

When the World Cup came around in the summer, he remained an important part of the Brazil squad, figuring in every match as they finished in fourth – although often this was as a substitute. His individual highlight of the tournament came moments after coming off the bench in the opening match against Croatia, as his successful tackle set Oscar away to wrap up the three points for the hosts. 

It was during the 2014/15 season that Ramires’ importance at Stamford Bridge began to wane, as Mourinho really put his stamp on the Chelsea squad and made it his own. The Portuguese preferred a midfield pairing of Nemanja Matić and Cesc Fàbregas by the start of the season, both of whom were signed by him that year.

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While Ramires made 34 appearances in all competitions, exactly half of these were as a substitute. Despite his playing time that season undeniably being impacted by two separate injuries at either end of the campaign, which caused him to miss nine games, a total of just 11 league starts was a clear sign that, in typically ruthless Mourinho fashion, his manager no longer saw him as an integral part of the Chelsea side.

Ramires did end the season by completing the full set of major trophies in English football, playing 90 minutes in the final as Chelsea secured the League Cup in March, and clinching victory with a goal against Leicester in his final appearance of the year as the Premier League title returned to Stamford Bridge. 

Despite signing a new four-year contract in the wake of that double-winning campaign, a disastrous start to the following season saw Mourinho replaced by Guus Hiddink, and shortly after, Ramires left the club, playing his final game in a 0-0 draw against Manchester United. He’d only started 15 games in all competitions in 2015/16 prior to his Stamford Bridge exit and was still occasionally used as a right-midfielder, despite clearly being better suited in a ball-carrying central role. 

It may have been partly down to his exit in January, when the season is well underway and there is less attention given to transfers in comparison with the summer window, but Ramires’ move largely went under the footballing radar – especially outside of Chelsea – considering he was one of Europe’s first high-profile stars to make the switch to China.

On 27 January 2016, midway through the English footballing calendar but in time for the start of the Chinese Super League campaign, the Brazilian moved to Jiangsu Suning for a transfer fee equivalent to just over £25m. This currently stands as the tenth highest fee paid for a player by a club from China, and was also Jiangsu’s record signing for about a week until they bought Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk for €50m in February.

The Brazilian reportedly doubled his weekly wages upon switching to the Chinese Super League, drawing the inevitable criticism that his move was solely motivated by money. He is currently thought to earn the equivalent of £220,000 a week. 

Ramires’ career at Jiangsu got off to a flyer as he scored three minutes into his Super League debut, but he ultimately endured an up-and-down first season – his most memorable moment of 2016 came when he attempted to attack a referee after receiving a red card. He was handed a four-game ban following the incident, and the situation could’ve been far worse had his teammates not forcibly restrained him on the pitch.

In his sophomore season in China, Ramires was able to contribute the goals from midfield seen during his earlier years in Europe, with 12 in 34 games. However, over the last year his career has taken a sharp downward turn. He played just one game in the first half of 2018 before being demoted to the club’s reserves in July.

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His international career has seemingly been dead in the water since his move from Chelsea, too. He hasn’t figured for Brazil since 2014, nearly two years prior to his switch to China, but the move was most likely the final nail in the coffin.

With the 2018 Chinese Super League season over and the transfer window open, there’s surely a chance Ramires could be on his way back to European football, especially as the Chinese window extends until the end of February. At the beginning of last year he spoke about a potential move to Internazionale, comments which may be the cause of his decline to the reserves at JS Suning, and he has also said in the past that he would like to return to Chelsea at some point in the future.

With Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté now occupying the central spaces he’d probably want to feature in, this seems unlikely right now, while the 4-3-3 formation and Sarri-ball system doesn’t favour him being used in a wide position. This said, Ramires is not even 32 until March and still has a few years left in his legs.

If he doesn’t secure a move away from Jiangsu in this window, however, the near-future will look bleak for the Brazilian, particularly if he cannot work his way back into the first-team picture and continues to rot in their reserves. 

Ramires’ club career to this point is defined by that iconic goal against Barcelona, but there’s no doubt he was a vitally important player throughout the two years in which Chelsea won their maiden Champions League, an FA Cup and the Europa League. He enjoyed an excellent few years between 2009 and 2014, and matured early to become a well-rounded player at just 23.

It could be argued that he peaked too early – not many players have accomplished so much by the age of 25. You have to wonder how different the last three years of his career could have been if he had gone to another top club in Europe after Chelsea, or stayed at Stamford Bridge to fight for his place. Similarly, his international career was short-lived, spanning a little under six years, but he managed to fit a healthy amount of success in before his final appearance to date against Ecuador in 2014. Ramires played in two World Cups, won the 2009 Confederations Cup, and scored four goals in 52 games. 

The fact he held down a place in the Chelsea side, either playing on the right or in the centre of midfield, is a testament to his versatility as well as his ability. Indeed, he continued to be selected through the reigns of André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benítez, and José Mourinho, all of whom were appointed after Carlo Ancelotti, the manager who originally signed Ramires.

The biggest question mark over his career, and just how good he was, may never be properly answered. Having spent a good chunk of his prime years in China, it’s hard to judge what he could’ve done at a top club in Europe at that time. Despite that, there’s no doubting Ramires was, for several years, an outstanding ball-carrying midfielder who could chip in with a big goal when called upon, and was equally adept at breaking up play. He boasts an impressive trophy haul from his time at Benfica and Chelsea, and has rarely been overlooked or underappreciated by fans, teammates and managers alike. 

By Jamie Bell @JamieBell97

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