Money, money, money: It might be funny, in a rich man's world, but Sergio Ramos is not laughing. Neither should Real Madrid supporters, who haven't exactly had much to laugh about this season anyway. If reports surfacing in the Spanish media are accurate (and they generally should be taken with a Dead Sea-sized pinch of salt) the Real Madrid vice-captain is locked in a good old-fashioned pay dispute with the Bernabeu bean counters.
Sports daily AS picked up the story on Sunday and reported that Ramos is angling for a summer move away from the club after claims from Barcelona presidential candidate Jordi Majo that the Spain international was offered to him by way of a campaign sweetener for his tilt at the Camp Nou boardroom. Majo's assertion smacks more of free publicity than a genuine approach. The chances of Ramos playing for Barcelona are thinner than the report itself, as his agent has insisted.
The Sevillan has come to embody Real Madrid as few players in the modern era have done. Signed for €27 million when he was 19, Ramos has gone on to make almost 450 appearances for Real and has banged in a very healthy 55 goals in all competitions, 40 of them in the league. The only Spaniard signed by Florentino Perez during the club president's first stint in the boardroom has become a dressing room leader and one of very few transfer success stories of the first Galactico era.
At 29, Ramos is at the peak of his powers and should have another five or six years at least in him at the highest level. Carlo Ancelotti likened him to Paolo Maldini, and it's not inconceivable that Ramos could match the Italy great in terms of longevity as well.
If it is purely a matter of money, Perez should push a blank cheque across the negotiating table. Ramos is out of contract in 2017, and the president's standard practice is to renew a player's deal when there are two years remaining. Negotiations have been at an impasse for some time and the uncertainty surrounding Ramos' renewal has not gone unnoticed among Real's European rivals.
Manchester United have a trump card in the shape of David De Gea, but if Ramos is removed from the Real back line, they had might as well just buy a brick wall and put that between the sticks. As good as De Gea undoubtedly is, a hybrid of Gordon Banks and Dino Zoff would struggle to keep balls out of the net with a combination of Pepe, Raphael Varane and Nacho in front of him.
Ramos was credited with saving the Decima in Lisbon with his 93rd-minute equalizer, but his influence goes much further than the occasional saviour's goal. In the course of the 2014-15 season the centre-half averaged 4.9 tackles and 5.9 interceptions per game. Pepe's average was 3.3 and 3.8; Varane's was 3.1 and 4.5. Ramos has also for some time been the on-field captain: Iker Casillas may be the custodian of the armband, but his ability to rally the side when things are not going to plan has diminished in recent seasons as question marks over his place in the side have grown more difficult to ignore.
Is it coincidence that Atletico Madrid and Schalke both hit four past Casillas when Ramos was injured, or that four of Real's eight defeats in all competitions came about when the defender was sidelined or played out of position? That is for Rafa Benitez and his defensive coaches to consider.
If, as is quite possible, Casillas leaves the Bernabeu this summer, Ramos is next in line for the captaincy. Beyond that, Marcelo is the current third in line. Although undoubtedly a wonderful player, the Brazilian is no leader of men.
It seems incredible that a firm Perez favourite -- and a small bit of vindication for his overall transfer policy between 2000 and 2006 -- will be allowed to move to a direct European rival over a few million euros. It is of course difficult to sympathise with multi-millionaire footballers over such matters, but Ramos' salary stands somewhere between €5 million and €6 million. According to Forbes, Cristiano Ronaldo trousered over $50 million in salary and bonuses last year, while Gareth Bale is on roughly the same basic wage, which pans out at well over a quarter of a million euros per week. The same publication also noted that Real Madrid are the most valuable football team in the world, worth somewhere around €3 billion.
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported in December of last year that Ramos had rejected a new contract offer, which included a pay cut, and sought advice from Arrigo Sacchi who was sporting director at Real when Ramos was signed. "Stay where you are," was the advice given. However, Real are doing themselves no favours by paying Toni Kroos more than the vice-captain, if a "leaked" dossier on the players' wages is to be believed. Perhaps even greater a slap in the Ramos chops would have been learning that he was only on a few quid more a week than Sami Khedira.
If, as has been suggested by Majo, the Barcelona offer story was engineered by the Ramos camp to loosen Perez's purse strings, it could backfire spectacularly for player and club: Real have issued no denial and Ramos is apparently not happy about that either. Real Madrid as an institution will be left considerably more off-colour if they see their vice-captain lining up against them next season.