Ramos returns for Real Madrid amid doubts about his future

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — First it was Lionel Messi, and now it’s Sergio Ramos with his future in question.

Ramos is ready to return from a left knee injury that has sidelined him since mid-January, but his commitment to Real Madrid is not assured with his contract set to expire on July 1.

Negotiations between the central defender and the club are apparently going nowhere.

“I would like to be able, as of today, to say something, but there is nothing new to mention,” Ramos said this week.

In 16 seasons with Madrid, Ramos has helped the club win four Champions League titles, five Spanish leagues and two Copa del Reys, with both his hardnose defending and some timely goals.

For several years, Ramos has remained one of the top central defenders in Europe and Madrid’s on-field leader. Karim Benzema has carried the scoring weight since the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo, but Ramos was the player to step forward as the undisputed team whip.

Although no details of his talks with Madrid have emerged, it appears that Ramos is seeking a long-term contract that the club is perhaps not eager to give to someone who is 34 years old.

“We are judged by our age, but I have always said that I feel like I am in my prime,” Ramos told popular Spanish social media personality Ibai Llanos in an interview on Thursday. “You shouldn’t be judged by what is on your ID card, rather by your performance. Let them judge Cristiano, Messi, … and me by how we play.

“Soccer has progressed as far as fitness goes. There are players like myself who have been focusing more on fitness for the past decade. Today 34 years old is like being 28 years old 10 years ago,” Ramos said. “Now all the work we put in is paying off. I feel stronger, faster, and with more experience.”

Ramos missed 14 straight games for Madrid because of damage to his left knee meniscus that required surgery in February.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Friday that both Ramos and forward Eden Hazard, who has missed seven consecutive games with his latest muscle injury, will both be ready to play against Elche on Saturday. Madrid is in third place in the Spanish league, eight points behind leader Atlético Madrid and two behind Barcelona.

Madrid then hosts Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday holding a 1-0 advantage from the first leg in the round of 16.

When asked about his top defender, Zidane said that while not wanting to get involved in Ramos’ negotiations with the club, he most certainly wanted to keep him on his squad.

“I don’t know what will happen, but we want Sergio to stay,” Zidane said. “He is an important player, and as his coach, I want him with us.”

So while Barcelona is hoping Messi will resign this summer, Madrid also has some anxious months ahead.

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