Real Madrid: Sergio Ramos can play until he's 40 - Van der Vaart
Rafael van der Vaart thinks that Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has many more years left at the top level and can't see him slowing down.
Sergio Ramos is the best defender in the world and can keep on playing well into his 40s, says former Real Madrid team-mate Rafael van der Vaart.
Ramos played a big role in helping Madrid end Barcelona's run of success in LaLiga, scoring 11 goals as Zinedine Zidane's men were crowned champions for the first time since 2017.
Ramos' 15 years at Real Madrid
The Spaniard was signed from Sevilla as a teenager in 2005 and was still young when he was joined at the club by Van der Vaart, who stayed at the Santiago Bernabéu for two seasons before joining Tottenham in 2010. However, having watched on as his old club secured the title once again, the Dutchman is impressed by how Ramos has matured and, considering his physical condition, sees no reason why the 34-year-old should be thinking of retiring anytime soon.
"For me, he is the best defender in the world," Van der Vaart told Stats Perform News as part of the UEFA Europa League Trophy Tour. "When I was at Real Madrid, he was 21 or 22 and bursting with energy. He wanted to be everywhere. Free kicks, corner kicks, everywhere. Now it is different, he has so much focus now. A focus on winning and he uses all his talents for that purpose. He's aware of his skills, strength and conditioning and that helped him being so important for his team in winning already so many titles. His body is unbelievable, he is a machine. When I was watching a game the other day, I thought, 'how old is he? 34?' I believe he can still be playing for another six years, I've so much respect for him."
With LaLiga secured, Madrid will now focus on potential European success as they return to Champions League action. They need to overturn a 1-2 first-leg deficit in their last-16 tie with Manchester City if they are to progress, with the remaining knockout rounds to be staged in Portugal, though Ramos will miss the match against Pep Guardiola's team at the Etihad Stadium due to suspension.
However, Madrid have been outstanding since the season restarted in Spain midway through June, and Van der Vaart expects a "really interesting" return clash with City, who finished second in the Premier League.
City-Madrid "is going to be interesting..."
"Real Madrid have been very, very good after the coronavirus break," he said. "They have all been very focused [on the games]. Including a 10-game winning streak. Karim Benzema and Ramos have been a key part of the team for me, and Zidane for bringing calmness to the team. However, I watched Manchester City against Arsenal playing the semi-final of the FA Cup, as well as other games. They have so much individual talent, so they are always dangerous, for any team, including the magnificent Real Madrid. That's what we've seen in the first leg, so it is going to be a really interesting game."
Van der Vaart was speaking as part of a Europa League Trophy Tour that has been collecting football boots from fans for Syrian refugees based in Jordan, a cause the former Netherlands international is passionate about. "It's great, I remember how incredibly happy I was as a little boy with my football boots. I even put my first pair on to bed and I dreamed of playing football. I hope that all children in the world may experience that kind of childlike joy. I'm so proud that I can help a little bit," he explained. "We are collecting boots, which hopefully gives a bit more hope and fun for all children. So, I'm proud that I can help a little bit and be a part of it. It's really important [to be able to go out and play]. Now there are so many things, but when I was little you would just go on the street and play. In lockdown it was difficult, of course. You want to meet with friends, you want to go out and play games, but when I started playing it was just me and the ball."