Ramos: Real v Spurs 'too tight to call'
Juande Ramos is more qualified than most to pass judgement on Tottenham's finely balanced Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid, having managed both clubs back to back from 2007 to 2009.
The coach who won two Uefa Cups with Seville before moving to Spurs understands Tottenham fans' concerns over whether Cristiano Ronaldo will start, but believes Real Madrid's biggest threat could be posed by one of the players who outshone the Portuguese winger at last summer's World Cup – Mesut Ozil.
"It's obviously better for Tottenham if Ronaldo does not play but it would be a mistake to say that Real Madrid are a one-man team," Ramos says. "Anyone who has seen anything of Ozil this season will know that.
"Ronaldo is the player who is perhaps the one most likely to unsettle Tottenham, but because the second leg comes so soon after the first game then it's only natural that the risk of playing him is being weighed up very carefully.
"Real Madrid also have massive games coming up this month with the [Spanish] Cup final and the league match against Barcelona, which is still very important to them regardless of how the league is, so all that has to be taken into consideration."
Ronaldo has not played a full 90 minutes since the end of February and Jose Mourinho said after the weekend defeat to Sporting Gijon that he would be taking a risk and going against medical advice if he started with the Portuguese international.
But Ramos believes the wizardry of Ozil provides just as great a threat to Tottenham and is not surprised by the German international's superb first season in Spain. "Moving to Real Madrid is not like moving to just any big club. Because of the size of the institution, you are under the spotlight far more intensely and some players can deal with it immediately and some can't.
"It hasn't surprised me that he has had such a good first year. We saw how he played in the big pressure games during the World Cup for Germany. He was superb and showed just what a talent he is."
Tottenham have their own superstar coming back from injury with Gareth Bale expected to start tonight. The Welshman was injured during most of Ramos's tenure at White Hart Lane and was still recognised as a left-back, which is where the current coach of Ukrainian side Dnipro believes he will end up.
"You could see he had tremendous quality and that once he got over his injury problems he would start showing his worth. Personally, I think he will end up as an attacking full-back where those incredible bursts from him can come from deeper and will be more difficult to defend against."
Ramos took over at Real Madrid in December 2008 just a month after leaving Tottenham and he took the Spanish side on a record-breaking run of 10 straight wins, only to lose the league to Barcelona and be knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool.
That double-header against Rafa Benitez's side also started with a home game, which Madrid lost 1-0. They were then beaten 4-0 at Anfield and there is concern over the advantage Tottenham have in playing the second game at home.
Yesterday Real appealed to supporters to push the team into the semi-finals turning up the volume in an often flat Santiago Bernabeu. Ramos has experienced first-hand the differences in football cultures, with English fans more inclined to get behind their team from the off.
"Every manager and player wants the supporters to get behind them and that can be a factor in the second leg but the Santiago Bernabeu will have an impact in the first leg, too."
So will Mourinho really be happy with a 0-0 draw to take into the White Hart Lane cauldron, with Spurs fans relishing the type of European night they could only have dreamt of in recent seasons? Or were those comments at the weekend just more mind games from a coach who knows his greatest chance will come by establishing a good lead at home? "It is an advantage that they have the second leg at home for Tottenham but it all depends on what result they take back with them. Away goals are very important."
Ramos knows things may have been different for him if – back in February 2009 – Real Madrid had not conceded late in the game. Real had to attack at Anfield after Yossi Benayoun headed in Fabio Aurelio's corner to give Liverpool a late 1-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid were exposed at Anfield with little option but to go forward from the off.
Ramos says: "Real Madrid will want to make sure they don't concede in the first leg and then make sure they score in the second game in London. It's a very evenly matched tie. Madrid are the favourites because they have the star names but there is really very little between the two teams."