Can Ramos, Quique shock Real Madrid on return with Sevilla?

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When Real Madrid welcome Sevilla to the baying, hostile Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, it won't just be LaLiga's game of the weekend -- it will also offer us the spectacle of the return of Sergio Ramos, footballing royalty.

The last time Ramos took his unique brand of gladiatorial defiance to this mighty stadium as an opposition player, as he'll do for Los Rojiblancos this weekend, was 20 years ago, again for Sevilla. In the interim, he went on to earn his status as an all-time Real Madrid legend.

From punchy beginnings as the first Spaniard whom Florentino Perez ever signed -- no easy feat in an era when Los Blancos' president swooned only over Galacticos such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo or David Beckham -- Ramos eventually went on to make 469 appearances, win 22 trophies (including four Champions Leagues) and earn the most red cards of any LaLiga player. All of it was done with a perpetual swaggering, an aggressive style of captaincy that is required at a club like Real Madrid.

- Stream live on ESPN+: Real Madrid vs. Sevilla (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, U.S. only)

Sunday will truly be football's version of the gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius returning to take his adoring ovation from the Coliseum.

Given Ramos' tendency to produce the most audacious, pugnacious and often ridiculous performances, there's every chance that -- once the Madrid fans have chanted their love for him -- he'll power home a header to give Sevilla the lead, kick Vinicius up in the air, tutor the referee in how to run the game "the Sergio Ramos way," knock in an own goal and get sent off before the final whistle. Well, something like that.

But Ramos is not the only returning "royal." The man in the Sevilla dugout -- the guy who is starting to look like a British World War II Commando now that he sports that big, bushy beard and roll-neck jumpers -- is a lesser-known, but still significant part of the Real Madrid royal hierarchy.

That man is Quique Sanchez Flores, who took over Sevilla in December, becoming the club's third manager this season. And while he will be trying to register his first win at the Bernabeu as an opposing coach since his Valencia achieved the feat in October 2005, his place in the Casa Blanca's regal firmament is not only permanent -- it's also a very colourful tale.

His dad, Isidro, was one of those rare creatures who was born in Barcelona -- the family were trapped there because of the Spanish Civil War -- but hit the heights at Real Madrid as a classy right-back who won four LaLiga titles and played in the 1964 European Cup final 3-1 defeat to Internazionale. The names of Isidro's teammates might not mean much to you if football history ain't your bag. But let me assure you that in Paco Gento (to this day nobody has lifted the Champions League trophy more times than him), Ferenc Puskas and, most importantly, Alfredo Di Stefano, Isidro played with three of the all-time greats of this sport.

Most majestic was De Stefano. Many of those who saw him play live, including Sir Alex Ferguson, reckon the Argentine must be included, alongside Lionel Messi, Pelé or Diego Maradona, in any debate about who was the greatest-ever footballer. Well, because of his friendship with Isidro, Di Stefano became Quique's godfather, or padrino -- something like if you were an actor who'd been baptised as an infant with Robert De Niro holding you in his arms and there, in perpetuity, as a benign, powerful influence.

"It was like having a second father all my life ... when he gave advice it was always from the prism of a genius, because that's what he was, a true genius," Sanchez Flores previously told Coaches Voice.

But it's not simply because of a league title-winning dad, or the greatest figure in the club's entire history being your padrino that Sevilla's current coach still has a regal aura around him at Real Madrid. His mum, Carmen, was a thrilling singer, dancer and actor, but his aunt, Carmen's sister Lola, was a superstar. Think about the adoration Dolly Parton inspires and the showmanship of, say, Lady Gaga. Now you've got it.

Now, I'm not trying to sell you the idea that you go seek out her flamenco-based castanet and trumpet tunes -- just take my word for it. Lola was a beloved star of epic proportions in Spain, Latin America and Miami where they held a lavish, star-studded tribute to her in 1990.

So let's put it all together: for young Quique, it was the modern equivalent of growing up as a promising footballer whose dad was Michel Salgado, whose mum was Shania Twain, whose Auntie was Dolly Parton and whose godfather was Raul Gonzalez Blanco. Howdya like them apples? (Quique is short for Enrique, so think of him as Henry if you like.)

Eventually, when Quique was 29 years old, came the cherry on top. Having starred at Valencia, for his godfather, De Stefano, he moved to Real Madrid, and played 30 times in his first season for the Jorge Valdano-coached side, which ended the Barcelona "Dream Team" run of four straight Spanish titles. Way to make yourself popular at the Santiago Bernabeu, right?

It's extremely nice added spice, from a Madrid point of view, that Quique's first Clasico at the Bernabeu was the January 1995 5-0 thrashing of Barcelona: total Blaugrana humiliation and Sanchez-Flores euphoria. Helped by the fact that, at right-back, he had been facing the recently crowned Ballon d'Or winner Hristo Stoichkov playing on Barça's left wing.

So tight and relentless was our guy's marking and pressing that the Bulgarian lost his temper in the 45th minute, stamped on Di Stefano's godson and was sent off. That was January and, while June brought glory in the form of his first and only LaLiga title, the winning match (2-1 win against Deportivo La Coruna) was played just a couple of weeks after his aunt Lola died of cancer. Spain mourned her as if it were a state funeral, though it was immediately followed by her son, Quique's cousin Antonio, being found dead of an overdose in Lola's mansion a few days later. Celebrations for a league title were somber after family tragedy like that.

Once Quique's playing career finished, he almost immediately put the fact that he'd earned his coaching badges, aged just 25, to use -- that's the kind of obsessive, detailed, organised guy we're dealing with here. "My family works hard, my family perseveres" is a mantra he constantly repeats in interviews.

He worked in La Fabrica (the Factory), the nickname for Real Madrid's fecund youth system, coaching guys like Ruben De La Red, who'd go on to win Euro 2008 with Spain. If, in fact, you already know Quique Sanchez Flores well, it's most likely either because of his spells at Getafe ("I took the job the first time because nobody else wanted it and I was the last brave man standing," he told Coaches Voice about his 2004 appointment), or Valencia. Or, perhaps, Atletico, where he won the 2010 Europa League beating Fulham in the final.

While he hasn't been victorious as the opposing coach at the Bernabeu for nearly 20 years, he's nonetheless defeated Los Blancos sufficiently regularly, with Getafe, Espanyol and Valencia, to be treated with proper respect by current Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti.

In fact, it was the Italian who was the last Madrid coach to lose to Sanchez-Flores (January 2022) after which Quique tried to dampen down the praise which came his way, saying: "Flattery is very debilitating -- many teachers in my life taught me this, especially Di Stefano who told me that if you puff out your chest it'll end up sinking you. Flattery makes me suffer -- I sweat, I blush and the idea that my players might think that I'm talking in the media after a big win because I want to be the 'protagonist' just embarrasses me."

The coronation and the cascading appreciation on Sunday will be for Crown Prince Ramos, not Quique Sanchez Flores. And that's just the way he'll want it to be.

Mind you, given Sevilla's perilous LaLiga position, he'd probably welcome a feeling of intense embarrassment for having to deal with the Monday morning praise, which would certainly follow a surprise, against-the-odds Sevilla away triumph.

But, win lose or draw on Sunday, Di Stefano's godson remains one of those who helped add to Real Madrid's legendary status and a part of Spanish society's rich, colourful tapestry.