Proved His Worth
At Barcelona, it was not that he was not appreciated. La Masia graduates hold a special connection with the fanbase. Underused and undervalued, however, were two categories that then 20-year-old Sandro Ramirez fell into. Across two years of exposure to the first team, he made just 17 appearances.
Since his LaLiga debut in 2014, the young forward experienced a period of stagnation at Blaugrana. His position, playing primarily as a striker, or wider if required, was dictated to him rather than allowing any personal preference. Coming through the youth ranks in the era of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi brings problems with it. It is possible to learn from the best, certainly, but not to your own detriment.
The last few years have been kind to the Spanish youth international, allowing for the routine of hours in the gym to pay off. Rather than a quick, wiry, darting presence during his emergence into the first-team picture, now he can add a stockier frame into the equation. He can handle himself in physical battles, without losing any of the explosive power that made his acceleration something to fear.
Barcelona chose to let their Sandro’s contract run out last summer, after one of their sporting directors admitted that he had only agreed to remain at Camp Nou while the club contended with the dangerous situation of being under transfer embargo. After joining La Masia at the age of 14, he was now very much out on his own.
Malaga were the team to immediately move to sign the 20-year-old, with the player having the intention of getting his career back on track. By November, he had already fired home five LaLiga goals, placing him high in the league’s goalscoring standings – where he has remained ever since.
“I didn’t expect it,” the Spanish striker told El Desmarque.
“I am happy to keep growing as a person and as a player. This was what I had in mind when I arrived here.
“When you leave Barcelona everything is very different, the play is different, it is another philosophy of playing, a new coach, young players that need to integrate themselves into the group. I am very happy with how I have gelled, from the first day I felt like just an extra player.
“It is very complicated [to find a place at Barca] because whether you want it or not, there are three of the best forward in the world in front of you. You can go out to prove things, but you will always be playing a secondary role.
“You are in the best team in the world, but I am an ambitious person that wants to grow as a football player and the only way to do that is to be able to enjoy your football and to get minutes I left.”
His current league goalscoring tally is the best that a Malaga player has managed in the Spanish top-flight since Salomon Rondon in 2011, a striker who has since gone on to impress at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League. It is no surprise, therefore, that Ronald Koeman has been in attendance at La Rosaleda of late, with Sandro also linked with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.
Due to having the idea in mind that Malaga will be a place for him to get his studs dug into plenty of LaLiga turf this season, his contractual release clause is extremely low. The 21-year-old is available for just six million euros, although his current manager Michel has suggested that he’d happily take a pay cut if it meant keeping his star striker around for another season. That kind of value for money in Europe’s top five leagues is very tough to find.
Sandro has performed with consistency and excellence, when everything around him has been changing. Juande Ramos and Marcelo Romero both spent periods as Malaga’s coach this campaign, before the club eventually found a happy medium in Michel.
Their new boss has lifted LaLiga’s manager of the month award for April, with the Andalusian club losing just one of their last eight league matches. At home, they have won their last four consecutive games, beating Barcelona 2-0 in the process – with Sandro getting on the scoresheet against his former employers.
Ripe For the Picking
Seven goals in his last eight games tell the story. Sandro has found his feet away from Barcelona, and while he will always be proud to be a product of their academy, he is more than ready to make name and reputation for himself in his own right.
This campaign has been the kickstart his career needed, with six million euros a small price to pay for a very talented young striker with a point to prove.