Welsh Maradona: the story and numbers behind Aaron Ramsey's rise to fame
In 2008 Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson were having a silent battle off the pitch in trying to sign highly rated 17-year old Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff. Ramsey had been putting in some impressive performances to delight top scouts everywhere, and now London and Manchester was knocking on his door. It took some morally questionable transfer tactics, good contacts and a personal meeting with Wenger to seal the deal that left Old Trafford fuming.
At the time Man Utd were unstoppable, having won the Champions League and Premier League a month earlier. Cristiano Ronaldo was in the prime of his Manchester career and José Mourinho had quit the Chelsea post in the previous season to further Man Utd’s dominance. Meanwhile, Arsenal had just lost Mathieu Flamini, Jens Lehmann and club physio Gary Lewin and ended third in the league.
So how did Ramsey, apparently a Man Utd supporter growing up, end up at Arsenal? As the bidding started for Ramsey, Wenger immediately offered Cardiff £5,000,000 up front in cash, something Man Utd wasn’t willing to do. Ferguson wanted a structured deal on a lower price, arguing that Ramsey was unproven. All parties involved knew Ramsey had a soft spot for Man Utd, so Ferguson banked on this being the detail that would swing the deal in his favour.
What Ferguson didn’t expect was former Arsenal player-turned-coach Terry Burton – assistant manager at Cardiff at the time – sitting down with the young Welshman to explain how and why Arsenal give young players a chance. Cesc Fabregas becoming a first team regular at 16 years of age was a good example, so were Gael Clichy and Theo Walcott.
Cardiff accepted the £5m bid from Arsenal, but as soon as Wenger was informed Burton had convinced Ramsey to join Arsenal the bid changed. Wenger now offered £2.5m up front with another £2.5m paid 12 months later, but with an added discount clause if Arsenal paid the second half of the fee earlier. A month after the transfer, Wenger paid the remaining half and got a £200,000 discount, bringing the total paid for Ramsey £4,800,000 source.
Wenger adds a personal touch
Many tricky Arsenal deals have been finalised after a Wenger meeting or phone call, and Ramsey was no exception. To secure the services of the exciting midfielder, Wenger decided to fly Ramsey and his family on a private jet to Switzerland where le boss was attending Euro 2008. Ramsey and Wenger had a long talk that resulted in Arsenal becoming the only clear destination - first team chances and long-term plans being the deciding factors.
On June 13th, Ramsey was announced an Arsenal player. Most people had never heard of the no-name Welshman, and the signing of future twat Samir Nasri a month later overshadowed Ramsey’s arrival. But behind the scenes there was a buzz. Coaches, scouts and managers knew exactly what type of talent Wenger had yet again gotten his hands on.
Debut and early days
Exactly two months after signing for Arsenal, Ramsey was handed his debut in a quiet Champions League qualifying round against FC Twente, and a month after that he made his Premier League debut against Blackburn. Wenger’s promise of first team opportunities stayed true, and Ramsey made 22 appearances in all competitions in his first season.
In his second season Ramsey played almost half of Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures, notching up 29 appearances in total and four goals over the course of the season. Wenger experimented with Ramsey’s natural position at first, trying to accommodate him into central midfield as much as possible, but often playing him as a winger. Wenger prefers to develop central players on the wings and Ramsey was no exception.
Injury and recovery
In February 2010, towards the end of the 2009-2010 season, Arsenal were playing Stoke away in a crucial Premier League game. Man Utd were two points ahead of third-placed Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey was starting to fire on all cylinders alongside Fabregas in midfield. The game was at a 1-1 standstill, and Arsenal had a hard time coping with Stoke’s thuggish rugby tactics.
With about 20 minutes left to play, Ryan Shawcross decided to throw himself into an impressively moronic tackle that immediately broke Ramsey’s tibia and fibula, leaving the Welshman’s leg hanging from muscle tissue in a gut-wrenching angle that TV cameras hurried to cut away from. The expression on Ramsey’s teammates revealed the extent of the injury, and Shawcross was quietly sent off crying while doctors rapidly tried to stabilise Ramsey’s leg.
Although Ramsey recovered quicker than expected, it took nine months before he could play again, being gently introduced back to football in a friendly behind closed doors at Colney. It took a long time for Ramsey to shake his bone-crunching demons, but complications connected to the leg break continued to haunt him and Wenger decided to loan him out in November 2010 – first to Nottingham Forest and then a short spell at his former club Cardiff.
Full return from injury
Ramsey was back at the start of the following season, amidst the mother of all transfer sagas involving Cesc Fabregas going on strike to eventually force a move to Barcelona. Arsenal also sold Nasri - another player who wanted to play in the #10 position - to Man City. This gave Ramsey enough opportunity to finally cement his place as a first team starter at Arsenal.
Although many supporters still weren’t convinced Ramsey could return to pre-injury form, he was yet again impressing coaches and players in training with both skill and a professional attitude. This led Gary Speed to appoint Aaron Ramsey the youngest ever captain of Wales, with Speed saying “Aaron leads by example on and off the pitch”.
Only eight months later Gary Speed committed suicide, and Ramsey’s captaincy – although unimportant in the perspective of a life being lost – was questioned and ultimately removed a year later by Speed’s successor Chris Coleman after a string of bad results. Speed’s suicide had a big impact on Ramsey and he suffered another setback in his development, this time mental rather than physical but just as horrible.
Ramsey made a total of 44 appearances across all competitions in the 2011-2012 season, scoring two goals and making four assists in the league. Arsenal were still heavily basing their approach on a possession strategy and Ramsey was still being used in several positions across the pitch, including deputising at right-back on occasion. With a respectable 1.8 shots on target, 3.1 accurate long balls and 1.6 key passes per game he was an offensive contributor as well as a defensive one, and that season firmly shaped his utility role.
The 2012-2013 season started in the same direction, with Ramsey still trying to find his preferred style of play. Running all over the pitch meant he switched from attacking to defensive actions, and he played in almost all of Arsenal’s league games (36 out of 38, 15 of them as a substitute). His shots on target and key passes per game ratios decreased, but he improved his passing and tackling accuracy.
Reaching unimaginable form
At the end of last season something finally clicked for Aaron Ramsey. The remnants of his injury and the loss of Gary Speed were now relatively distant memories and Welsh Maradona started coming into the form he was expected to reach years earlier. Played in a central midfield or right wing position, Ramsey applied his versatile skill set to become the ultimate utility player.
The technical strength of Ramsey now lies in the seamless transition between offensive and defensive play. When he doesn’t have the ball he is a tackling powerhouse, so far this season making an incredible 5 successful tackles per game. Add to that his 1.4 interceptions and 0.9 clearances per game and you’d think it was a central defender we’re talking about.
But as soon as he gets hold of the ball he transitions into a playmaking attacker, so far attempting more shots per game than the likes of Christian Benteke and Alvaro Negredo – both outright strikers.
He is now in such unbelievable form that it’s hard to understand why Wenger has played him on the wing to accommodate Mikel Arteta in midfield. Arteta, although a good squad player, has no business being on the pitch with Ramsey and Flamini building the type of central midfield partnership we’ve been missing for years.
At the time of this article being written, Ramsey is the highest rated player in the Premier League and arguably the most in-form player in the world. His confidence is so high it doesn’t matter where he starts. And while media is drooling at Adnan Januzaj and Andros Townsend, Ramsey is quietly creating history with a string of unbelievable performances at the only club that was able to promise him this would happen.
Oh, and just in case you forgot: he’s 22 years old.