WORDS WITH: RAMIRES
If you were to construct a list of candidates for who would be Chelsea's most improved player of the new season, it is likely you would at least consider Ramires for the title.
The 24-year-old midfielder has started each of our eight Premier League games this season having won the trust of new manager Andre Villas-Boas with some typically energetic displays, and although he out of tonight's game at Genk after limping off at the weekend, Ramires is in high spirits.
The standout feature of the Brazilian's performances are surely the lung-busting runs from deep that are rapidly becoming a trademark of the man nicknamed 'the Blue Kenyan' at his former club Cruzeiro.
Think of the counter-attack against Norwich that saw Ramires pulled down by City goalkeeper John Ruddy for a penalty, the double strike against Swansea, the early burst through Valencia's backline that forced Victor Ruiz to commit a foul on the edge of the area, and Saturday's third goal against Everton. All show the former Benfica man at his very best, though he plays down his individual impact on our positive start to the campaign.
'When I get the ball, it is like what goes through any player's mind I think, just to get to the other end and to either score or make it possible for my team-mate to score,' he explains. 'When I'm carrying the ball and pass it, I always try to continue my run to give another option and that is what happened in the Norwich game.
'I've said before that I am very happy with how things are for me at the club at the moment, and it isn't just for me but the whole team, which has been growing with every match and competition. I hope we can continue this good phase for a very long time and win some titles, which I have not done for Chelsea yet.'
Ramires has now bettered his goal tally for 2010/11 by converting twice against Swansea at Stamford Bridge in September, his first a low drive between the goalkeeper's legs after making up impressive ground to latch onto Ashley Cole's square pass, and the second a calm low finish that wrong-footed the goalkeeper, before sliding home Juan Mata's cross against the Toffes at the weekend.
None had the headline-grabbing characteristics of last season's solo effort against Manchester City but both showed what Chelsea fans can expect now Ramires has fully adapted to English football to become a key member of the squad.
They also highlighted the more attacking role he has taken on the pitch this season. Having filled the holding role at times under Carlo Ancelotti, or played second fiddle to Frank Lampard's attacking instincts, it is now he who can be seen off the leash and frequently galloping into opposition territory. Nothing unusual, says the midfielder.
'It is not so much just attacking, I do what the coach tells me to do on the pitch,' he says. 'Because my physical strength is higher than normal it gives me the liberty to attack more and still come back to my own position.
'The other players joke with me about it and mess around. After a game if I say I am tired they laugh and say "Oh no, there is no way you can be tired!"'
Asked why Villas-Boas has shown such faith in him, Ramires believes it is down to simple hard work.
'I think it helps because he knew me from Portugal but also because I always work hard and do the best that I can, for every trainer I have worked for,' he shrugs.
'He sometimes speaks to me in Portuguese, like before a game or maybe in training, but most things are in English which helps me with the learning, and when I am on the pitch I understand most things anyway.
'I knew him from Portugal, I remember playing against Academica when he became their manager two seasons ago and I was with Benfica. They improved a lot in that time he was with them, Villas-Boas is an excellent manager and we spoke about him a lot in Portugal when I was there.
'Having the opportunity to meet him here is fantastic because I admire the work he did in Porto immensely, and the person he is as well means he is the best trainer I have ever had.
'He is always giving you strength and belief, supporting you and telling you what you need to do. He is absolutely fantastic, very intelligent and understands the game amazingly well. As a person all the players think he is amazing and he treats us all equally.'
It is obvious from the relaxed way he speaks that Ramires is happy and at home in west London, which can only benefit the Blues as we go in hunt of silverware once more. The one thing missing at the moment though is international recognition.
Having figured heavily at the Copa America in Argentina this summer, he has not been called up to the Brazil squad by coach Mano Menezes since, instead remaining at Cobham for training and waving compatriot David Luiz off on national service.
'It is the option of the coach of the national team,' he says, shifting in his seat as he ponders his 27 caps. 'It has been a while since he contacted me, but I am playing good football here and I need to concentrate on Chelsea. If I let the national team get into my mind it might affect the work I do here and I don't want that to happen so I am just going to concentrate on Chelsea and move forward, then I will hope that the international recognition will return.
'I have been asked many times why I didn't go, if I had an argument with the coach but I always say no, nothing happened between us, at the moment he just prefers to leave me out.'
It is selfish to think in terms of Chelsea of course, but by being excluded from the Selecao, Ramires was able to recharge his longer-lasting batteries. That means we can expect plenty more turbo-charged performances in the near future, just so long as that knee injury clears up in good time.