x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Juande Ramos delivering an eastern promise

Ukrainian club Dnipro are flourishing at home and in Europe under the Spaniard's management, writes Ian Hawkey.

Juande Ramos has been described as a manager who 'clearly knew what he wanted'. Giuseppe Bellini / Getty Images
Juande Ramos has been described as a manager who 'clearly knew what he wanted'. Giuseppe Bellini / Getty Images

At the halfway point in the Ukrainian league season, a glimmer of hope for those who chase the apparently indomitable Shakhtar Donetsk: they lost for the first time in 16 games this season.

The Champions League perhaps preyed on the minds of Ukraine's domestic title holders, who promptly confirmed, on Tuesday, their progress to the last 16 of Europe's principal club competition.

The shadow of Shakhtar looms large over Ukrainian domestic football. It casts gloom over Dynamo Kiev, but it can serve to stimulate others.

Currently second in the domestic table, albeit 11 points behind Shakhtar, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk harbour a very real hope of making a similar impact in Europe to their compatriots in Donetsk, 200 kilometres to the east.

A draw at PSV Eindhoven tonight could be enough to secure Dnipro's place in the knockout phase of the Europa League, where they lead Group F, ahead of Napoli.

Dnipro are in specialist hands in this competition.

Juande Ramos, the 58-year-old Spaniard appointed just over two years ago to take charge of first-team affairs, owes much to the Europa League, or at least the tournament under its previous rubric, the Uefa Cup.

The trip to Eindhoven has reminded Ramos of a tense, extra-time-then-penalties tie against PSV four years ago in which the Tottenham Hotpsur he then led just missed out on a quarter-final place.

Above all, Eindhoven was the venue when Ramos masterminded Sevilla's 4-0 demolition of Middlesbrough in the 2006 Uefa Cup final.

At that stage in his career, even in Spain, Ramos was considered something of a journeyman.

He had no glittering playing career on his curriculum, having retired at 28 with knee problems.

Juan de la Cruz Ramos Cano – "Juande", for short – then embarked on his odyssey in coaching. It would take him to four countries and to posts at Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But before that, it had often seemed stuck in the game's foothills: Alcoyano of the second division; Levante when they were operating two tiers lower than they are now; Logrones of the second division, at least until Ramos gained some national applause by steering them up to the first.

It would be at Rayo Vallecano that Ramos showed the powers of alchemy that would gain him the big offers later on.

One senior player there at the time, the former US goalkeeper Kasey Keller, recalls how he "clearly knew what he wanted, understood the capabilities of the players and he wasn't afraid to take big decisions".

Rayo under Ramos qualified for the Uefa Cup and reached the last eight. So began his regular liaisons with the competition.

Recruited by Real Betis, Ramos led that club into the Uefa Cup, ahead of a brutal dismissal in which he was described by the Betis president as "a Renault"; the president saying he wanted a "Ferrari".

Ramos has seldom wooed the media with expansive statements and he can come across as prickly. His short stint at Espanyol ended when he publicly criticised his bosses.

A season at Malaga would restore his status as an able organiser of mid-ranking clubs.

The Sevilla experience made him more than that. There he would collect two, successive Uefa Cups.

That brought Spurs to his door, with a handsome salary offer – "one that made my head spin", he said at the time.

He won the League Cup with Tottenham but, as they drifted to the bottom of the Premier League in his second season there, he was shown the door.

Next stop? Real Madrid, as caretaker for almost two-thirds of the 2008/09 season. He fulfilled the requirement of stabilising a drifting vessel, but the post would always be temporary unless his Madrid caught a rampant Barcelona. They did not.

All of which left Ramos at a crossroads, respected in Spain but without prospects of a future at either of the leading two clubs, no longer in fashion in England.

He went east, to CSKA Moscow. He was back on the plane to Spain after a month and a half. His spell in Russia had lasted 47 days; his Madrid job 27 matches; his Spurs stint a year and a day.

Set against that, the Dnipro relationship already seems long and relatively stable.

His team are benefiting from familiar routines, are notably strong at set pieces and have already beaten PSV and Napoli at home.

Tonight, Dnipro eye, for the first time in 23 years, European football beyond the new year: a rarity for them, familiar territory to their worldly coach.

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