Ramires: This Do Nascimento may be more Ray Parlour than Pele but he will be crucial for Chelsea tonight
Brazilian's tireless style will be key to Di Matteo's plan to beat Barça
Chelsea's running man, Ramires Santos do Nascimento, shares his surname with the most famous Brazilian footballer of all, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele. It is, though, another "Pele" whom he most resembles in style – Ray Parlour, "the Romford Pele".
This is not to denigrate Ramires, who will be a key player for Chelsea as they seek to dethrone the Champions League holders, Barcelona, in the Nou Camp tonight. Parlour's ability is sometimes forgotten amid the tales of his laddish behaviour with the likes of Paul Merson and Tony Adams. Parlour was an integral part of Arsenal's two Double-winning campaigns, scoring a superb goal to win the 2002 FA Cup final, in total winning three league titles, five FA Cups and the European Cup-Winners Cup.
Indeed, the Romford Pele nickname was given him by Marc Overmars after Parlour scored a stunning goal in training, featuring a mazy dribble capped by nutmegging Dennis Bergkamp.
Ramires has shown with Chelsea, most recently in the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, that he is also a decent finisher, but the similarity with Parlour is in their high-octane, disciplined, wide midfield play. In a team often accused of ageing, Ramires provides legs and balance. He can play on the flank, or more centrally, but usually combines both roles in a game. "When the team are defending I try to close down the midfield, and when we are attacking I have to open up to give more space to the more creative players and be available out wide," he says.
Last week's tie at Stamford Bridge, when he switched flanks to both contain Dani Alves and attack the space his rampaging compatriot leaves, was typical. Ramires did the latter part so well that, as in the quarter-final away tie, he helped create the crucial goal.
It is no surprise that working hard comes naturally to Ramires, for at the beginning of his football career he laboured on a building site by day and trained at night. He was rescued by lower division Joinville, soon moving on to Cruzeiro, one of the giants of the Brazilian game, though not so much recently. There his athleticism earned him the nickname of "Blue Kenyan", a reference to the colour of Cruzeiro's shirts and the African nation's fabled reputation for long-distance runners.
The inevitable move to Europe came in May 2009, when he was 22. Portugal, the customary stepping stone for Brazilian footballers, was the destination, with Benfica paying €7.5m (£6.5m) for a player who cost Cruzeiro $300,000 (£180,000) 16 months earlier (though Joinville, shrewdly anticipating such a move, had kept 30 per cent of the economic rights, realising them a handy windfall).
In Lisbon Ramires, by now a Brazil international, was an instant hit. He began with a rush of goals then settled into a industrious shift on the right of a midfield diamond that balanced Angel de Maria's attacking forays on the left. Benfica won a domestic league and cup double and reached the Europa League quarter-finals. Ramires, and his Chelsea team-mate David Luiz, were part of the team that beat Everton 5-0 and 2-0, before going out to Liverpool.
That summer he went to South Africa for the World Cup. There he was such an integral part of the seleção that coach Dunga said his absence through suspension was a key factor for Brazil's quarter-final defeat to the Netherlands.
Ramires was now in demand and soon after his return to Europe Chelsea paid £18m for him, though Benfica's profit was cut as, a month earlier, they sold half their economic rights in him for €6m to a third-party agency believed to be run by Kia Joorabchian.
That was 20 months ago. Ramires is now on his third manager at Chelsea, but whoever names the team, be it Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Di Matteo, Ramires has been in it when fit. It was not, therefore, at all odd that though Ramires was thought to be close to his fellow Portuguese-speaker, he signed new five-year deal the day after Villas-Boas was fired. Ramires and Chelsea is clearly a relationship which will run and run.
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