Chelsea midfielder Ramires grew up in a poor district of Sao Paulo called Boa Sorte, meaning Good Luck, but there was not much fortune in his life early on. He shared a cramped apartment, which had only one bedroom, with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers and when he wanted to play football, had to share a pitch with a local herd of cows.
As a teenager, he helped his uncles work as bricklayers, even though he didn’t enjoy the hard labour. “I remember working with the hot sun in my face, carrying stones, sand and bricks,” he once said. But the family needed money and Ramires was providing.
He would work for eight hours every day before his football training in the evenings. “I worked from 8am until 4pm. Training was at 430pm. I cycled home from work, got changed then took the bike out and would train and then go home.”
That same energy and spirit has helped his career blossom in Europe; and while the larger-than-life figure of David Luiz may dominate Chelsea’s Europa League final build-up against his former club Benfica next week, it’s worth remembering that Ramires also spent a year in Lisbon as well.
Not just that, but this will be Ramires’s first European final playing for Chelsea; arguably the player that did more than anyone to get the Blues to Munich last season, after his breakaway goal at Camp Nou on the stroke of half-time made it to 2-1 to Barcelona on the night and gave Chelsea an advantage on away goals. Just minutes earlier, Ramires had been booked after his complaints following John Terry’s red; that yellow suspended him from the Champions League final.
By the time Lionel Messi had missed an early penalty in the second half, Ramires was playing at right-back, and limiting the influence of Andres Iniesta, Isaac Cuenca and then Rodrigo Tello. “Don’t say I’m a hero,” Ramires told the Brazilian press after the game. “On the pitch, I just tried my best to help the team. Thank God that at home I could make the pass for Drogba’s goal, and now I scored a goal that put us back into the game. My team-mates helped me a lot.”
It was not the first time that Ramires has missed a big game: at the 2010 World Cup, he was sent off in Brazil’s Round of 16 match against Chile, and missed the quarter-final loss to Holland.
There were moments in Wednesday night’s pulsating 2-2 draw with Spurs when it seemed Ramires would end up missing the final; first his slip when clean through for a chance to make it 3-1, after which he banged his head and looked certain to come off; and shortly after, an ankle knock that he managed to run off—all that after scoring Chelsea’s second goal with a brilliant first-time toe-poke.
Next week’s match in Amsterdam is one that Ramires does not want to miss. “I will be very happy to meet all my former team-mates,” he said. “They were a part of a very important moment of my career and I won’t forget them for the rest of my life. I will also be happy to meet Jorge Jesus. He helped me to adapt to Europe and he’s a top coach, one of the best in the world. Benfica have a beautiful stadium, a sensational training-centre. Any player who plays there is given everything he needs to succeed.”
They provided the springboard to Ramires’s career in Europe and have made light work in their own league, where they are still unbeaten. For Benfica, this weekend’s trip to Porto (also unbeaten) could secure them the title. The reunion with Ramires awaits, and the fact that he will be available for such a big match might make all those longs days back in Sao Paulo worthwhile.