On January 7th Gaston Ramirez played 90 minutes for Middlesbrough in a 0-0 draw against Leicester City, shooting a late chance wide.
By January 12th Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka explained to fans that Ramirez had a knee injury and his fitness situation was unclear: “Gaston has a problem with his knee and we thought it was going to be a few days but now we will wait one or two weeks and see what is happening.
“We hope it is not serious but you can’t rush this type of injury.”
A day later Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reported the Uruguayan had reached an ‘agreement in principle’ to sign for Leicester City during the January transfer window.
It came as a huge surprise to Middlesbrough fans and the claims were immediately rubbished as being nonsense. What would an Italian newspaper know about a Uruguayan moving between two Premier League clubs?
The truth is that for years transfer rumours have been pushed to the Italian media about Ramirez, just as they have about Hull City’s Abel Hernandez. The Uruguayans are represented by the same agent and both seem to be pushed around clubs looking for higher wages, regardless of their current contracts.
Abel Hernandez, out injured for the majority of February as the Chinese transfer window got the business end, has been repeatedly linked with a move to China over the past month, with the claims being pushed to the Italian media.
As January continued and Ramirez remained at Middlesbrough, unable to play with a knee injury which had gone from days to one or two weeks and ended up being a month, the player handed in a transfer request.
Middlesbrough stood firm and kept Ramirez, and then on February 7th his agent Pablo Bentancur told the Italian media: “I was working to bring Ramirez to Leicester, Ranieri and Eduardo Macia wanted him strongly. With Middlesbrough it was a battle, the coach said that if Gaston had gone he would go away too.”
Karanka quickly denied such an ultimatum was made. Regardless of whether it was true or not, that Bentancur so happily volunteered the information showed a complete lack of respect for Middlesbrough and their manager. And, regardless of whether it was true or not, it encouraged the idea that Karanka is volatile and prone to dramatics.
Bentancur wasn’t shy about confirming talks with Leicester City had taken place, without Middlesbrough’s permission, and was prepared to throw a spanner in the works.
A day after the agent comments, the same Italian website the agent had spoken to claimed Liverpool interest in Ramirez and that contact had already been made. It didn’t take Sherlock Homes to work out what was going on.
Since returning from injury on February 11th against Everton, Ramirez hasn’t contributed a goal or an assist, and his performance against Stoke City at the weekend was so woeful that some fans believe he was downing tools.
The whole circus has been a problem Karanka doesn’t need and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say Ramirez’s pushing to leave, injury absence, and subsequent sub-standard form could play a big part in relegating Middlesbrough. It’s not just how it impacts the player’s personal performances, but what the circus has done to moral and the squad as a whole.
Gaston Ramirez has long been transfer trouble, and it wouldn’t have taken too much research for Middlesbrough to learn that before they bought the player. There is good with Ramirez, he’s a very talented footballer and contributed to Middlesbrough’s promotion, but a negative pay-off was always likely.
Karanka is now in an incredibly difficult situation having to decide what to do with Ramirez. Some fans would have him banished but if Karanka did so there’d be critics ready to blame the Spaniard for poor man-management.
The best motivation for Ramirez is likely to come from outside. If Bentancur hears from Leicester City or anyone else that a big money deal awaits the player if he performs well between now and the summer then it may help save Middlesbrough.
Unfortunately, whatever happens, Ramirez is likely to win.