Boasting three La Liga titles, a pair of Copa Del Rey wins, the Champions League, as well as being a two-time European champion and a World Cup winner with Spain, Sergio Ramos is one of the most decorated centre-backs in the modern game.
He is also a defender with his own fairly spectacular and formidable highlight reel filled with big blocks, huge tackles and momentous goals. Yet no matter how much Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo try to make the game look like an individual event, football remains a team sport, especially at the back.
Who wouldn't want a defender with the Spaniard's medals and proven track record for his clubs and country? Though Ramos may be rightly regarded as one of the very best centre-backs in the world, would he fit the needs of Manchester United as well as Jaap Stam or Nemanja Vidic once did, or could he become Old Trafford's answer to Vincent Kompany: a bombastic and all-too-impetuous, if widely acclaimed, liability?
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Sergio Ramos compared with United's four main defenders from last season.
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Sergio Ramos' defensive stats compared with United's four main defenders from last season.
There are some important contrasts between the situation a Real Madrid defender finds himself in compared to one playing within the rear guard of Louis van Gaal's side. Carlo Ancelotti's laissez-faire management style, with his focus on building up his players and cramming them into whatever formation suits them best, is a world away from the intensity and attention to detail of his Dutch contemporary over in Manchester. The results of their divergent methods within the dugout are marked, too.
Last season, United's defence -- as was the case with almost every department of their team -- tended to be extremely busy and prone to making errors, partly due to the exposure brought upon them by Van Gaal's desire for his players to dominate their individual battles across the park and leave little in the way of dead weight off the ball in any phase of play within his system.
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Manchester United were the 11th most active team for defensive actions across Europe's top five leagues last season. Real Madrid were one of the least active.
Besides Michael Carrick, the squad lacked sufficient cover in front of the centre-backs, which hardly helped matters whenever the ball was lost or players ahead made the wrong decision over their positioning or passing. However, this pro-activeness was spread out throughout Van Gaal's team, with his defenders, midfielders and attackers all expected to contribute as best they could in attack and defence, sometimes with less than encouraging results.
Madrid, on the other hand, recorded far fewer defensive actions per game, due in part to their domestic supremacy over the less well-equipped sides within La Liga and the lower amount of work put in higher up the field by their out-and-out attackers and attacking midfielders. When fit, the awareness of Luka Modric made a difference too. Though hardly the stereotypical midfield anchorman, the Croatian's intelligence and composure more than made up for his diminutive stature and mild temperament.
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Bayern Munich were the least error-prone side across Europe's top five last season, while United were one of the most error-prone teams.
Although Van Gaal may be happy to expose his defenders to risk for the potential reward of a flowing, coherent team able to play from back-to-front, Ancelotti's preference to let his defenders defend also brought its own problems.
Madrid still caused plenty of problems for themselves through the mistakes of their own players. The difference between United and Madrid's clumsiness and the actual number of goals conceded so often came down to the presence and reflexes of David De Gea between the sticks for the Premier League side. No wonder Los Blancos are hoping to secure his signature this summer.
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Fouls galore: Sergio Ramos committed more fouls per game than United's three most regular centre-backs last season, but was second only to Marcos Rojo for total number of duels won.
Unless there is to be yet another dramatic shift in philosophy and defensive organisation at Old Trafford, Ramos would be unlikely to find his workload lessened compared to the amount of graft expected at the Bernabeu and on international duty with Spain. After all, the suffocating possession football employed by La Roja is partly designed to leave their opponents with few chances to get at their defenders by denying them the ball. It was a tactic dreamt up partly due to Spain's once brittle defence. Van Gaal is another a manager who likes his teams to dominate possession but not to the extent and purpose of Vicente Del Bosque.
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The top four sides for possession across Europe's top five last season, plus Real Madrid.
Last season, Ramos picked up 14 yellow cards in 27 games; the joint fourth highest total across Europe's top five leagues. By comparison, Marcos Rojo was United's most card-happy defender with just six yellows picked up in 22 games. The Spaniard was also more likely to foul an opponent compared to United's most regular centre-backs.
The more hectic surroundings of Van Gaal's side, regardless of his desire for the other sections of the team to defend beyond the back line, could bring out the worst in Ramos' indiscipline, much like how Kompany has become a loose cannon for Manchester City with both his overly keen tackling and reckless strolls forward.
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Ramos compared to four of United's other big defensive targets.
After all, the Spaniard is another centre-back well used to stepping out and doing more than just stop an opponent. The line-breaking demands of United's current manager could embolden him to become similarly over-ambitious with his choice of when to drive forward, especially when paired with the similarly free-striding Phil Jones.
For the money that will be required to make such a move possible, and the likely loss of De Gea who seems ready to move the other way to Madrid, there are certainly risks involved in bringing Ramos in to upgrade Van Gaal's back line.
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Ramos' defensive actions compared to four of United's other big defensive targets.
The Spaniard has the experience, leadership ability and past record to become the marshal United's defence are so clearly lacking at present, but given the issues of motivation and inflated egos that can come about with such a big signing of a player that has already achieved so much - and looks set to leave his current club for more money rather than competitive curiosity or hunger - it's far from a no brainer.
He obviously has the talent to adapt and change, but at 29, and with a creaking shelf of medals, does he have the desire to turn himself into the high-class lead cog within Van Gaal's work-in-progress side or would he turn out to be another insubordinate mercenary unable to blend into such a new, different and demanding culture?
Greg Johnson - Squawka
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