How Eric Dier's tackle on Sergio Ramos made us all smile
Original background photo [altered] by Bryan Maleszyk used under Creative Commons Generic License, finished image © Martin Palazzotto, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Sergio Ramos is widely regarded as football's most unscrupulous player. Whatever ethics, morality or sportsmanship he once possessed are overridden by an unwavering desire to win. He is one of the toughest opponents in the game. But on Monday night this mean, conniving man was made to look the fool by Gareth Southgate’s England team. Rarely have we seen the Spaniard so poor, so helpless, in the face of an opposition. It was brilliant.
The game played out at Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarín, compounding the ignominy of Ramos’s ineptitude. Ramos grew up a Sevilla supporter, coming through Los Beticos' rivals youth academy. Thus it wasn't just England fans who took delight in his undoing.
With the game barely ten minutes old, Tottenham’s Eric Dier decided it was time to set the tone. Sensing his opportunity, the Tottenham midfielder sprinted towards Spain’s captain. If Ramos saw Dier's imposing figure hurtling towards him, he made no effort to avoid a collision as he dribbled casually along the endline towards David de Gea.
Six feet, two inches of privately-educated bulk slammed into the ball, sending the Real Madrid man directly up into the air then swiftly down. It was a good tackle, the kind of robust, uncompromising challenge that's all but died out in football; perfectly legal while dripping with menace. For Ramos, a truly karmic moment.
The referee decided it was worthy of a yellow card. A sadly inevitable decision which might have quite justifiably sent the 'game’s gone’ brigade into a frenzy. Thankfully, a flurry of England goals with Ramos at the centre of the action dragged our attention away from football's demise as a physical endeavour.
He was off the pace when Marcus Rashford threaded the ball through to Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City winger thundered the ball into the top corner to finish off a flowing England move. The Merengues defender was then outmuscled by Harry Kane who slipped the ball through to Rashford to double the lead. Next, Ramos was left floundering when Ross Barkley’s delicately lofted pass found Kane in space, waiting to set up Sterling for his second and England’s third.
They were the Three Lions' first goals in Spain since 1987 when Gary Lineker scored four. Regardless, the game will be remembered first and foremost for Eric Dier’s beautifully crafted retribution. England hung on to win despite a spirited comeback inspired principally by the white-shirted visitors' inability to come within a four-mile radius of any 'camisa roja', during corners and set-pieces. Ramos' last-minute, headed goal was scant consolation for a forgettable night.
For many years, Ramos has played the part of dastardly villain to perfection. On Monday, he was insipid and unsteady. Eric Dier sensed it and pounced.
That tackle was for Mo Salah and Loris Karius, Mario Mandzukic and Lionel Messi. It was for every player who has found himself on the end of a flailing Ramos elbow, for anyone who has ever had to wipe the man's spit from their chin, for every referee who has ever felt the sour heat of Ramos’s breath in his face, whoever else he has wronged on his journey to becoming the best defender in the world.
On behalf of the entire footballing community, Eric Dier appeared as the cloaked vigilante to inflict revenge on one of the game's most unsavoury characters.