Until I had been blown away by England’s brave performance to hold out for a 1-0 win against Spain, I had been feeling disaffected about the national team and their dull prospects. Without Jack Wilshere at the nucleus setting the tempo and, with a midfield of runners like James Milner; I could not help thinking the team does not excite me the way Steve McManaman, Darren Anderton, and Teddy Sheringham once did. Even as an Englishman, I had been far more excited about what Wales’ manager Gary Speed is building towards – particularly with Aaron Ramsey the foundation the team is being built around. Wales beating Norway 4-1 through a combination of Ramsey dominating the passing game aligned to the counter attacking speed of Bale and Bellamy may give them a chance of getting to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
The Norwegian Tippeligaen league, sometimes referred to as the Eliteserien, is apparently the most physical league in Europe. Their players settle in the Premier League without too much of a long period of adaption as a consequence. I was looking forward to seeing Ramsey against them. I was looking forward to this game in the same way I judge Arsenal’s players against away matches in December at Stoke and Blackburn. It is a certain kind of test where physical and cardiovascular power will be tested to the maximum. What I found in watching the game was that Ramsey was extremely comfortable and, of course, he passed the test. Ramsey has changed, as I said in my previous article about him. I noted he pounded the pitch in frustration when he was not given a penalty at one point and won headers in both penalty areas. He might have a game that is suited to intricate passing and possession football, but he has a duality to his game in that he can compete. Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere also have this duality to their game.
Ramsey ran the majority of the game and alternated his positional focus between playing as a ‘quarter-back’ tempo setter and using his running power to push behind the forwards on counter attacks. Playing for Wales with the likes of Andrew Crofts has added a ‘flanker’ style to his game play, to use a rugby term. He shut down runs, made tackles and was on his feet to compete at the next ‘breakdown’. Like Wilshere again, he is effective at both the deeper midfield game and working in the attacking midfield zone. Almost all of his shots seem to be caught well, which when the fact occurred to me made me think of quote by Ian Wright. Wright once said that Dennis Bergkamp never seemed to scuff the ball, that he always struck it so cleanly.
Ramsey increases his marketability by leading the Welsh national team to emerge as a decent footballing nation, with his captaincy, and also to the English market through being linked to the Olympic Great Britain football team. He looks fresh faced, clean cut, photogenic and is going to sell merchandise across the world in the way that Walcott also will.
I accept that a discussion over who might be the next Arsenal captain is a premature one. Robin Van Persie has found his best form in the role, but whether he stays is another matter. If he stays he will be at the club long enough for a Ramsey or Wilshere to get to the right age where they will be ready to lead the club. If he goes, perhaps it is too soon. Ultimately, the Arsenal style lives or dies depending on the efficiency of the centre midfield mechanics so it would make sense for the captain (eventually) to play there.
Should it be Wilshere? Why not let an Englishman captain a quintessentially English football club? Who better to captain the club that an Arsenal fan who has been at the club since 9 or 10 years old, and does much for charity? Wilshere plays in the way that club talisman like Gerrard, Rooney, Puyol do. He fights for the team, and throws his body onto the line like Nigel Winterburn or Ray Parlour. He influences the team by controlling the game play, and could redefine English football away from the 6’2’’ runner/tackler who cannot pass. And yet, Ramsey has had an early exposure to the responsibilities of being a captain. He has a serious, stern side to his personality, and indeed has not had the brushes with Police that his English compatriot has. His quiet air of authority may stand him in good stead.
Whoever does become the future Arsenal captain; if it is either Ramsey or Wilshere then we would have a marketable, talented, young British leader – both an embodiment of the Arsenal style.
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