Ramires is not your typical samba star.When pondering Brazilian football, the mind typically conjures images of Pele, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo to name a few.
But Ramires is not a Brazilian of the shimmying nature of Ronaldinho, nor is he a particularly inventive technical player as so many to have worn the shirt of the Selecao have been.
Ramires is at his best in full stride with the ball in front of him, stretching the game and demonstrating the attributes that make it obvious why he plied his trade at fullback in the early stages of his career.
Since joining Chelsea from Benfica in 2010 Ramires has fulfilled a number of roles. Initially played in his more natural role of defensive midfield, Roberto Di Matteo saw potential for the energetic Brazilian in a wider role, observing that his stamina levels would allow a good balance between defence and attack, and, particularly in the Champions League, prove an asset in hitting teams on the break behind their fullbacks (evidence of this is clear enough in his glorious chip at the Nou Camp). The former-Cruzeiro man has also been played at right back when necessity has dictated during his time in West London.
But even when deployed in the centre of midfield Ramires can cause some debate. Is he best used in the holding role to provide dynamism alongside the less mobile John Obi Mikel, or most useful as a box to box midfielder, supplementing the technique of Chelsea’s attacking trio while contributing more sparingly defensively?
Regardless of the outcome, I believe it is of the utmost importance that one way or another Ramires’ best position is decided as soon as possible in order to prevent him treading the path of Michael Essien.
In 2008 Essien was in a similar position. Normally installed in defensive midfield but with his renowned stamina and power always a threat in opposition territory, Avram Grant stumbled upon a new use for Essien. With Paulo Ferreria out of favour and Juliano Belletti underwhelming on plenty of occasions, Grant began to use Essien as a right-back. Trusting in the Ghanaian enough to play him there in the Champions League final (a game in which he was beaten in the air by Ronaldo for the Manchester United goal).
This season, Essien – on loan at Real Madrid – has been played by Jose Mourinho at left-back, right-back, defensive midfield and as a central midfielder. Clearly there are extenuating circumstances, having struggled with cruciate ligament injuries on-off since late 2008, moreover Essien was clearly brought in with the intention of plugging gaps where required for Madrid. But the point remains. Essien is now caught in limbo, on loan at club where he is a handyman, the Chelsea squad has moved on – bringing Ramires in who is capable of doing the job Essien’s body no longer can, and desiring a different brand of football.
If a decision isn’t made on Ramires in the near future, I fear that the utility he shares in common with the Ghanaian could lead to sharing his fate as a player without a position.
For what it’s worth I believe Ramires is best deployed as a lateral defensive midfielder, picking up the ball and beginning attacks in a manner than John Obi Mikel had not proved himself particularly capable of until the early stages of this season. However his inability to time challenges over the course of 90 minutes raises questions about his suitability to that role.
One thing is for certain, it would be a real shame to see the talent of Ramires slip away through a failure to define his position properly.
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