Justice has nothing to do with it as anti-hero Ramos has the last laugh

Salah’s injury and Karius’s disastrous display combine

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp says his side wanted everything but ended up with less than nothing after an unfortunate loss Saturday (May 26) to reigning champions Real Madrid also saw star player Mohamed Salah injured early in the game,

 

In one of the more memorable scenes in The Sopranos, the teenage AJ Soprano goes to visit his grandmother Livia in hospital.

His parents are angry with him because he took his mother’s car out without permission and crashed it. He tells her he’s feeling down and that his uncle said he should go see her because she is “old and has wisdom and stuff”.

“Did you wear your safety belt?” asks Livia.

“Yeah,” says AJ, assuming this is the right answer.

Livia is suddenly animated.

“Because there was an article in the paper the other day, about a bunch of teenagers from out near the Delaware Water Gap. They overcrowded their car, it hit a tree, and it incinerated. And they got trapped. People could hear them screaming, they couldn’t get out. The safety belts did it. Buckled them in.”

“See? That’s what I mean. What’s the purpose?” says AJ

“Of what?” says Livia, with a baleful stare.

“Being. Here on our planet. Earth. Those kids are dead meat. What’s the use? What’s the purpose?”

“Why does everything have to have a purpose? The world is a jungle. And if you want my advice, Anthony, don’t expect happiness. You won’t get it. People let you down. And I’m not naming any names. But in the end, you die in your own arms.

“You mean . . .  alone?”

“It’s all a big nothing! What makes you think you’re so special?”

There are certain stories we like to tell ourselves when we feel we need reassurance.

“In life you get what you deserve.”

“What goes around comes around.”

We cling to these notions because it’s preferable to believing that Livia Soprano was closer to the truth of things.

In the hour before the Champions League final began, the stadium screens replayed the goals each team had scored on the way to the final. Watching Real Madrid’s progress through the knockout stages, you had to be impressed by the extent to which their road to Kyiv had been paved by sheer randomness: deflections, penalties, goalkeeping howlers and bicycle kicks. This unusual formula turned out to be one they could repeat on demand.

Two hours after the game, Sergio Ramos posted a photo on Instagram. He was posing with his medal between his teeth and his boot up on the rim of the trophy, like Donald Trump Jr gloating over a dead lion.

In the comments, thousands of people were expressing variations on the basic sentiment “puto rata” in all the languages of the world. This seemed unlikely to bother Ramos, who has won so much by now that he needs the tears of his enemies if victory is to have any savour.

Arguments raged

Gareth Bale had walked away with Uefa’s man of the match award, but everyone knew Ramos had been the real MVP. The pivotal moment of the final came when he grabbed Mohamed Salah’s right arm and tumbled to the ground, dragging Salah down heavily with him. Salah put out his left arm to try to break the fall and the force of the impact popped his left shoulder.

At one stroke Ramos had ended Salah’s Champions League and probably cancelled his World Cup too. Salah might have thought that if there was any justice, his team-mates would go on and win the final without him. Instead he had to watch the man who had put him out of the game lifting the cup. He understands now, if he didn’t before, that justice has nothing to do with it.

Afterwards arguments raged over whether Ramos had really meant to eliminate Salah. Madrid’s captain seems an odd candidate for the benefit of the doubt. This is a man who has been sent off 24 times, despite playing for Real Madrid.

He is a veteran of almost 800 top-level matches. Of course he knew there was a chance that what he was doing was going to injure Salah. It was a risk he accepted eagerly. Anyone who thinks it was an accident should ask themselves if they could imagine Ramos pulling the same move on Cristiano Ronaldo in a Madrid training session. If ever such an “accident” had put Ronaldo out of a World Cup, Ramos would have been looking for a new club.

At least Salah knew that he was blameless in his own misfortune.

Loris Karius did not have this consolation. At the end the sobbing Liverpool goalkeeper was so weighted down with shame that he scarcely seemed able to raise his hands in supplication to the Liverpool supporters.

It echoed a scene from the final two years ago at the San Siro in Milan, when Atletico’s full back Juanfran approached his own supporters to beg their forgiveness. He too was shaking with tears, and all he had done was miss a penalty in the shootout. What Karius had done was so much worse.

It’s not just that he knows he cost himself and his team-mates the biggest game of their careers. It’s that the whole world knows it too, and the world is full of people who will never stop reminding him of it. You can say it’s only a game and worse things can happen, but what happened in Kyiv will follow Karius for as long as he is recognised, and as the goalkeeper for Liverpool he is recognised wherever he goes.

Either one of his mistakes could have defined a career. Either one of those mistakes, in a Champions League final, would have been a rotting albatross around his neck, guaranteeing years of gloating chants, mocking memes, waggish yells, glances and whispers and people at the next table in restaurants failing to suppress quiet sniggers as they surreptitiously snap pictures of the Clown of Kyiv.

To make two such mistakes in the space of 25 minutes goes beyond cruelty into a kind of absurdity. The natural impulse is to make sense of what happened by fitting it into some kind of moral scheme. We want to believe we get what we deserve, so if Karius is suffering then he must somehow have deserved it. And yet what could he have done to deserve this?

Romantic fiction

If you wanted to strike a tough-guy pose you might say: the gods of football punish only weakness. Karius was weak, he forgot to pay attention, and he paid the price.

Even this cynical view is really just a romantic fiction. The truth is that sometimes weakness is punished, and sometimes you get away with it. The distribution of punishment is not consistent. In a chaotic and error-strewn final there were moments of weakness, carelessness and ineptitude all over the pitch.

But Karius was the only one whose moments of fallibility were punished so horribly. These “gods of football” look a lot like an effort to see patterns in random chance.

The same urge to make stories out of randomness will also see Sergio Ramos’s performance held up as a legendary masterclass of the dark arts. Another way to see it is that he was fortunate not to see the 25th red card of his career.

Between the cynical foul on Salah, another incident just after half-time when he clattered Karius off the ball, and an outlandish dive that the referee interpreted as a foul by Sadio Mané, he more than earned the red. But the referee did not give a single foul against him all game.

There is a cost to all the after-the-fact nonsense that is spoken about dark arts. It makes people think of Ramos’s cheating and cheap shots as an asset rather than a defect. Few of these wannabe Ramoses will ever enjoy his success, but imitating his most stupid and selfish qualities will make their lives and all the lives they touch a little bit worse.

Ramos at least seemed to be content with his night’s work. Not everyone on the winning side shared his happiness.

Zinedine Zidane might have expected one of the easier post-match press conferences of his career. Instead he found himself having to finesse questions about the futures of Ronaldo and Bale, both of whom had chosen to announce in the immediate aftermath of victory that they were thinking about leaving the club. By the time Zidane walked in to the press room the glow of triumph had already dissipated, and the entourage of Madrid had moved on to the next episode of the ongoing dynastic telenovela.

Personal hell

Ronaldo was deep in his own lavishly-appointed personal hell. He had won, but he had failed to score; worse, he’d had to watch Bale come on and win the game, the plaudits and probably the Puskas award too. Ronaldo’s bicycle kick against Juventus had been more perfect, but Bale’s had come on the ultimate stage. Ronaldo had seemed about to score in injury time, but he was thwarted by a fan who ran onto the pitch and nearly reached him before the stewards pounced and dragged him away.

Coping with these indignities required Ronaldo to draw on all his formidable reserves of mental strength.

“Who was the top scorer once again? The Champions League should change and be called the CR7 Champions League. I have won five and I am the top goalscorer again, so I cannot be sad.”

Who else could win the Champions League for the fifth time and then defiantly declare: “I cannot be sad”?

Who else could seem so restless at the moment of ultimate victory? You saw in this moment how his ambition is both blessing and curse. The thirst for glory has raised him to the heights but the price is that it can never be satisfied; no matter what he achieves, it can never feel like enough.

Elsewhere, as what seemed an obscenely early dawn broke over the city, Jurgen Klopp knew there were big decisions to be made. He has form for backing his players through disaster. One of his salvage jobs, Dejan Lovren, had just delivered a fine performance in the final.

What is he to do with Karius? Has any player ever needed his support more? Can he afford to give that support? Does he give the keeper a shot at redemption? Or is it time to say Loris, I’m sorry, but it hasn’t worked.

For now these decisions could wait.

His players had suffered and learned a lot. They learned what it felt like when nine months of brilliant work turns out to be the elaborate build-up to a punchline of a final where the joke was on them. Maybe that lesson will stand to them, maybe it won’t. Maybe they will reach another Champions League final together, more likely they won’t. So, for want of a better idea, Klopp joined in with some fans in a song. Even if it’s all a big nothing – especially if it’s all a big nothing – what else can you do but sing?

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