Andre Ramalho agreed to join Bayer 04 Leverkusen from FC Salzburg in January 2015 - © © imago
Andre Ramalho agreed to join Bayer 04 Leverkusen from FC Salzburg in January 2015 - © © imago

Who is... new Leverkusen defensive specialist Andre Ramalho?

Cologne - There’s always an element of intrigue whenever a Brazilian joins the Bundesliga and that’s certainly the case with Bayer 04 Leverkusen new boy Andre Ramalho.

Inspired by Kaka

Outwardly, the 23-year-old is a throwback to the days of Rudi Völler and Kevin Keegan given his curly locks, but on the pitch he is everything a modern-day Sechser could wish to be.

"Ramalho is a young and talented defensive all-rounder," said Bayer 04 sporting director Völler upon confirmation of Ramahlo’s summer move to the Rhineland from FC Salzburg last January. "He’ll be able to help us out a lot next season on all fronts thanks to his versatility."

Nowadays Ramalho tends to operate in, or in front of, the back four, but that wasn’t always the case. He left lowly Brazilian outfit Red Bull Brasil in 2013 as an aspiring attacking midfielder, only for the decision-makers at Salzburg to transform the self-proclaimed Kaka aficionado into a ball-playing defensive specialist par excellence.

A Schmidt student

Working under current Leverkusen head coach Roger Schmidt, Ramalho won an Austrian Bundesliga and ÖFB-Cup double in his first season at the Red Bull Arena. With natural flair and creativity, he brought qualities to the table that most players of the battering ram variety could only dream of.

“Andre reads the game really well,” Schmidt explained. “That’s why he’s able to defend from the front. He wins the ball back early and makes a lot of interceptions. He’s a Sechser by trade, but he often played at centre-back [when I was at Salzburg] because of injuries and did a great job. At Leverkusen, he’ll do both.”

Bundesliga dream

For a team that thrives on closing down the opposition and breaking forward in numbers, a player of Ramalho’s ilk would appear to be a marriage made in heaven. Mixing Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League football is clearly going to be a whole new ball game, but the Ibuina native has all the credentials to leave a lasting impression at the BayArena - much like Samba imports such as Ze Roberto and Lucio before him.

“Everyone in Austria always expects Red Bull to win everything, that teaches you a lot about pressure,” he admitted. “Leverkusen is another completely new challenge. Bayer are one of the best clubs in a top league in which you come up against really good teams and really good players each week. It was always a dream of mine to play in one of the best leagues and now I can do that.”