the Sergio book – the XI of my life (III)
Here are the next three sections in the chapter written by Sergio! He talks about exactly how the Copa del Rey slipped out of his hands, three coaches who have greatly influenced his career and the penalty kicks against Bayern Munich and Portugal.
Feeling like a champion.
One of the reasons why a young kid like me signed for Real Madrid was to win titles. And now with eight seasons behind me [I can’t believe it’s been that long!], I realize that I celebrated and enjoyed the first title, the Liga de Capello, like no other. We always talk about our first time, and it’s true. Time and football make you tougher. It’s not that you become less of a person, less sensitive to success or you’re less humane, but football teaches you through blows. Just like life.
Being with my family after the game against Mallorca was wonderful. My maternal grandparents, Reyes and Juan, were at the Bernabéu and they took pictures with the trophy. The game before that one, in La Romareda, was the key. I’m so glad that Tamudo scored that goal against Barcelona, since we were having a tough time of it. The president, Ramón Calderón, took a lap around the field before we were officially champions. I don’t like this type of thing. Mallorca went up in the Bernabéu behind a goal from Varela, who had played for Betis. I expected the worst. Then Reyes tied, Diarra scored a header and Reyes got the third goal.
The next year, we won again with Schuster. The game against Pamplona, where we became champions, was also heart-stopping. I started the play that led to Higuaín’s goal. I went up, I gave it to Diarra and he passed it on to Pipa. It was raining so hard!
Something that has impressed me a lot is the visits to Cibeles. The last time, for my third Liga, we saw that madridistas had filled all the streets leading to the plaza. It was extraordinary to see so much madridismo together, to see fans filling Alcalá until the Puerta de Alcalá, and on the other side, from the Paseo del Prado to la Castellana… the fans enjoy those moments the most, and you feel like climbing off of the bus to go celebrate with them.
We also went all out celebrating the last Liga because of its significance and the numbers we achieved, which I believe are unbeatable. They should give out two trophies for cases like this. It was the same thing with the campaign we had with Pellegrini. We got to 96 points. This club demands winning, but I believe Pellegrini did a great job. I admire him. He’s a great person.
And of course I have to mention the Copa del Rey, and how it slipped out of my hands and fell. It’s become part of my history. We were arriving at Cibeles, and I was at the front on the top of the bus, with the Copa in both my hands. The bus braked a bit and I fell forward. Since there was a bar there, I leaned on it but then the bus reversed and I fell backwards. There was a step and in order not to fall, I took one hand off of the trophy to steady myself. I tried holding on with just the other, but with that movement, it fell. It weighed a lot, almost 20 kilograms.
The truth is that my teammates did not give me too much of a hard time about that. Mourinho asked me what had happened and he told me the important thing was to have won it, that it wouldn’t be taken away from me just because it had fallen. In addition, there was a replica prepared in case anything happened and the next day it was there when we went to the town hall and the Comunidad.
Three wise men.
I’ve learned things from all of the coaches I’ve had, and there have been many. But I believe three men have had a special influence on my career: Joaquín Caparrós, who discovered me, Luis Aragonés, who debuted me on the national team and then later on used me despite the competition, and Vicente del Bosque, who maintained this confidence and made me feel like an important player.
It would be unjust not to mention Pablo Blanco, the technical manager of Sevilla when I first arrived at the age of eight, although he was never my coach. He still holds that position, which says volumes about his knowledge and humanity. He was the first one to say that I could play for Real Madrid. I was only 16.
I start with Joaquín Caparrós, a vital man in my career and a brave coach who always supported the cantera which is why players such as Navas, Capel, Puerta – RIP -, Reyes or I made it to where we are. He came to watch our training sessions. My father saw him, but never told me anything so that I wouldn’t get nervous. I admire his bravery. The club had signed Baptista and Dani Alves. Navas was already there. He promoted Puerta and me. He benched Alves for me. He had a lot of confidence in me since he had watched me for two years. Then he put Navas on the left to put Alves on the right as an inside forward. Not everyone is that brave. Caparrós represents commitment to football. He has the values of football. He loves the sport.
I have various anecdotes about him. The best one that defines him occurred when I had already begun training with the first team and we had a friendly to play near Sevilla, what we called the “Champiñones Lui.” The young players, those who usually played the least minutes in official games, played this type of game. We were to meet at the stadium. But we had a problem with the car and we arrived just when the team bus left. My father ran in front of it to make it stop so I could get on. Caparrós told the driver to keep going, not to stop. My father asked me what to do, and answered himself: “we’re going to follow it, I’ll take you to the field in the car.” While he was doing that, I was trying to call the team delegate on the phone. We followed the bus for 40 kilometers, until a rest stop where the team stopped to have a snack.
We arrived and went up to the coach. I tried to explain to him why I had arrived late, that there was a lot of traffic… My father apologized, but nothing. Caparrós said, “you’ll see how after this you’ll never arrive late again. How could a 16-year-old arrive late for an opportunity like this? The next time, you should bring a mattress and spend the previous night where we meet up.” He was right. I never arrived late again.
One of the qualities I’ve always liked about Joaquín was that he maintained constant communication with the player. He motivates you, he gives you such confidence that when you go out onto to field, you believe you’re the best even though you’re only 16 and debuting. When I debuted at the Riazor, he told me, “chaval, play as you know and how you always do.”
Another anecdote involving Caparrós occurred in one of my first training sessions with the first team. We were playing a rondo and I accidentally kicked Marañón. The others in the rondo were Pablo Alfaro and Javi Navarro. Marañón called me a kid. I apologized, saying it was an accident. Caparrós, who had seen what had happened, came up to us and changed the exercise. He calmed us down and when he left, he whispered to me, “the next time, you kick him harder so he won’t complain.”
He gave the canteranos a lot of “sugar,” but he didn’t let us get full of ourselves. Humility and hard work were his two favorite words. I was impressed by how he managed the team in the week before the derbies against Betis. He covered the walls of the locker room with what Betis had said, and with motivational messages.
I had a special relationship with Luis Aragonés. I will always be grateful to him. He was how he was and I was how I was, at that time younger and someone who never shut up. I remember that I turned 19 in my second game, in Belgrade. He started me. The field was very soft and I used boots with aluminum studs which were longer than what I usually wore. Well, my studs are always the longest ones. During the half, he came up to me and told me, “niño, chiquito, what studs are you wearing?” I raised my foot to show him. “They’re small,” he told me. That shut me up because I understood that what he wanted me to realize was that he was watching me and that he was not going to change his opinion because he saw that the reason for my errors weren’t the studs.
Our relationship was more tense in the 2008 Eurocopa. There was a preparatory game in Santander and he commented to me that I joined the attack a lot. During the first game of the competition, I stayed back more and he asked me why I didn’t join the attack. I didn’t know what he wanted. He demanded a lot from me, he laid into me. I didn’t mind that. Until then, he had always told me things to my face, but one day in Austria we stayed behind on the field to talk and he commented about several personal issues which he later on told the press. I didn’t like that. So the next day, in the chat he gave us before the training session and in front of all my teammates, I told him that. I told him that I didn’t like being used as a bad example. He was always talking about the football code, and he had always said he told things to one’s face. Now, everyone knew what had happened.
Afterwards, I realized I had made a mistake, but the reality is that I reacted and I actually began playing better. That was what Luis wanted. We didn’t have any more problems. I am also very grateful to him because to let me, a kid, play, he had to take out Míchel Salgado, a starter with Real Madrid and with many years of experience. He thought that was the best move for the team so he did it.
Caparrós is much more like Luis than Vicente. Del Bosque is nothing like the other two. Vicente approaches things in another way although they all have the same end goal. Vicente is the “good cop” in everything. He never wants to bother you, he always has good things to say. He could not be a better person. It’s even hard for him to say no to something you want.
With him, I went from being a fullback to a centerback. I believe that he saw the possibility of this shift before it happened, but he didn’t do it because he needed a fullback and he had me. It wasn’t an issue of taking me out, finding another and then creating a problem with the centerbacks because then there would be three or four of us. The injury to Puyol, before the Eurocopa, made the decision for him. It also happened that I had begun to play in the center with Real Madrid at that time.
Vicente is great, very polite. He always asks me how the girlfriend and the family are. He’s very warm. He also knows a lot about me because of Fernando Hierro, who is one of the persons who knows me best.
Panenka, from villan to hero.
The fact that I’m a defender doesn’t mean that I can’t take free kicks or penalties. Hierro took free kicks and penalties his entire career and no one thought anything of it. That’s why I don’t understand how what I did can be viewed in a negative way. From the time I began playing, I always wanted to score goals. There were many days when I told my parents, “today I’m going to score one and dedicate it to you.” I also took penalties and free kicks with my teams in Sevilla, with the Sevilla city team, with the Andaluz provincial team. In the semifinal of the U-19 Eurocopa, I scored a penalty in the shootout.
My mentality is first to defend and then to attack. The penalty against Bayern, in the semifinals of the Champions League last year, was the first penalty I missed. That’s why it bothered me that people, without knowing my history, said all the things they did. That I had gotten nervous, that pressure had gotten the better of me… They should know that the more pressure there is, the more confident I am and the better things go for me. It was also said that I had been moved up in the order. The order was this. Cristiano and Kaká were the first two. The fact that they missed didn’t put more pressure on me. My failure should be considered just like any other, but my failure was Sergio Ramos’ failure and not any other one. Many others, including specialists, have failed and not as much was said.
I understand that there were more repercussions because it was the semifinals and Real Madrid had not gotten to the final in many years. I also believed that it was related to me being from Sevilla, from Andalucía… But I knew very clearly how I wanted to take it. The penalty spot was in poor condition, so I put the ball a bit behind it and the referee told me the ball had to be touching the chalk, so he made me move it. I didn’t put the weight correctly on my supporting leg and I kicked the ball poorly. I watched it many times. I know what happened. I didn’t rush it, I kicked it three centimeters above instead of below. Those three centimeters changed everything.
That night, I was going to go out to eat with family and friends from Sevilla, but I went home. I didn’t feel like doing anything. The only thing I said to my parents was that the next time I took a penalty, I was going to do a Panenka.
The next day, I took it again and also the day after that. Knowing that people thought that I wasn’t prepared gave me courage. I practice penalties every day after the training session. I knew that I could not get depressed. It was a thorn in my side, but you always get revenge in football. My family and my girlfriend Lara suffered a lot with everything that was said and written.
During the Eurocopa, we practiced penalties regularly because we knew that from the quarterfinals on the games could be decided with penalty shootouts. Before the game against Portugal, we had practiced shooting, but not in front of the goal. I was with Piqué and Xabi Alonso, and I began kicking the ball like that. I had already taken some half-jokingly against Iker and Reina. I knew what I was doing.
When we got to the shootout in the game, I saw some players go up to the míster. I went directly to him and I told him I would take one. He asked me if I was sure and I said I was completely sure. While we were waiting to take the penalties, I went up to Albiol and I told him, “Chori, I’m going to take it Panenka style. My moment has arrived. Chori, ¡ojo!, this is my moment. The “picachu” is coming.” We called this touch, when we tapped the ball, “picachu.” I didn’t tell anyone else.
I knew how I was going to take it. I looked at the goalkeeper, I thought about my loved ones. I thought about my grandparents, my penalty against Bayern Munich. I told myself, “it’s time to change history, Sergio.” I was confident that I would make it. I felt the same sensations that a bullfighter feels when he enters the plaza and doesn’t know if he’s going to triumph or fail.
I put the ball on the penalty spot and I took four or five steps backwards. I ran forward quickly, as if I was going to kick it hard, but I put my foot under the ball. “Picachu.” I realized it was a goal when I saw the ball bounce out and the goalkeeper on the ground.
It was liberating and I thought in that moment that football had made it up to me. I didn’t have time to think about anything else because my teammates mobbed me. I think the first one to reach me was Jesús Navas, the gazelle. Reina told me, “¡Olé tus huevos!” The míster didn’t say anything to me. Before the semifinal, we had been practicing penalties and and I didn’t take any Panenka style. I had told Del Bosque that if the moment came, I would take it like that and he responded that when the moment came, I wouldn’t dare. “We’ll see,” I said. He’s so courteous that he didn’t want to tell me what everyone else had said.