x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chelsea's toughnuts from Brazil

Alex and Ramires bring hard tackling, rather than South American flair, to Chelsea.

Alex scored a stunning free-kick for Chelsea against Arsenal earlier this season.
Alex scored a stunning free-kick for Chelsea against Arsenal earlier this season.

There is a sigh from Ramires as the tale is mentioned. His compatriot, neighbour, and guide to all things Premier League is amused at the obvious embarrassment. "Is that true, man?" says Alex, smiling. "You broke the bed?"

Tabloid news editors can hold their guns for this 'Chelsea star's bedroom romp' is no front page kiss-and-tell. It dates back to Ramires' childhood in Rio state and a precious piece of family furniture.

"I'm sure it was my sister that told this story," says Ramires, reluctant to reveal all. "OK. We were playing in my mum's bed, myself and my cousins, and in the end the bed was broken. I don't know how. Before my mum arrived home we made up the bed, everything perfectly, but it was broken.

"When she arrived all of us were sitting on the other bed, just quiet looking to her. She arrived tired after work and went to get a seat, but of course when she sat down she felt it. When she got up she was screaming 'Who did this'? And my cousins were saying: 'It was Ramires, it was Ramires'. I said: 'No. It wasn't me, it was my brother'. I still think it wasn't me who broke it, I think it was my cousin."

The Ramires family provided some unconventional aids to his footballing career. A spell working with his bricklayer uncle helped Ramires grasp the escape route presented by lower-division Joinville. Before long he was dubbed 'o Queniano Azul', the Blue Kenyan, for his ceaseless running, a trait Ramires credits to a truculent grandmother.

"When you have an angry granny it's difficult," he laughs. "When you are young you do some 'arts' and if you don't run away you get beaten. Sometimes I ran all day long. But there was nothing to do, because I ran all day long, then, when I came back at night I got beat as well."

Uncharitable observers would argue that the 23-year-old has spent the best part of his Chelsea apprenticeship running around before being beaten up by the hardy old lags of the Premier League.

Bought by Roman Abramovich from Benfica and a consortium of third-party owners for a headline fee of €22 million (Dh105.6m), Ramires' introduction to the English game has been forcibly accelerated by Chelsea's extensive injury list.

Few South Americans adapt instantly to the division and Ramires accepts he has yet to consistently replicate the standards that made him a fixture in Brazil's World Cup team. He bridles, though, at the suggestion that he will never reach them here - particularly unimpressed by the rumour that his slender frame fits a boy's shirt.

"No, man. It's a medium. I'm a wee bit thin, but I'm firm."

Ask about the differences between English football and the Latin game and Alex steps in. "A lot," laughs the centre-back.

"That's true, a lot," agrees Ramires. "But I think the biggest difference is the contact because the pitches are smaller and the contacts are really tough. I'm not saying in Portugal that there is no contact, but there, maybe because the pitches are bigger, there is less of it. Like it, I don't. But I have to get used to it. It's obligatory."

Back to Alex, a 6ft 2ins centre-back who has never been described as thin. "And referees they let it go, eh? he grins. "I told Ramires to 'arrive'. Because here there are no fouls."

Ramires, falling into his team-mate's double act, says: "Alex told me if the guys come to bother me he will take care of me. "Yeah, I will defend him," concludes Alex.

Such back up was not required in their last meeting with Arsenal. Alex converted a free kick with such ferocity he tore a hamstring.

"Definitely my best goal for Chelsea but three minutes after I scored I was feeling my leg and the people were joking with me 'Don't shoot anymore, just shoot once a month'," says the defender, who then required a knee operation and will miss tomorrow's rematch.

Ramires demonstrated his potential in the English game. Sprinting from box-to-box, rapidly redistributing possession, and instigating Chelsea's opener with a carnivorously sharp tackle on Alex Song.

"That's English football, eh?" he says. "I think this is the team spirit. The goal wasn't just because of my tackle; [John] Obi [Mikel] was nearby and he got the ball, passed it to me, and I could find Ashley [Cole]. It was all of this that made the goal."

And for Arsene Wenger a "100 per cent foul" that cost Arsenal yet another three points at Stamford Bridge. "It's a joke, eh?" responds Ramires. "When it's against them they say that. When it's for you they don't say anything. "

Instrumental to ending Benfica's five-year wait for a Portuguese title in single season there, the midfielder has been badly missed at Estadio da Luz.

Alex is quick to tease his friend over this season's unprecedented 5-0 loss to Porto, but turns sympathetic when he hears that Benfica coach Jorge Jesus claimed that both Ramires and Angel Di Maria - a still more lucrative sale to Real Madrid - were expendable

"The most important thing is myself and Di Maria tried to give the best of ourselves to Benfica and I think we did,"says Ramires. No angry grannies required. The Brazilian bed breaker learns quickly.

sports@thenational.ae