Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, fellow pundits on Sky’s football coverage, had an interesting debate recently which illustrated certain things that we already knew. The debate was over which was the better player: Steven Gerrard or Paul Scholes. Carragher loyally backed his former club-mate Gerrard, as Neville did with Scholes. Both commentators have been ‘one-club footballers’ and have stood alongside their choices in all the footballing battle grounds of Wembley, the San Siro, Old Trafford, Highbury, Turin, the Nou Camp and many others. Their bias, delivered as expected, was sewn into the very fabric of their DNA years ago.
To the players themselves, the debate is unfair. Their styles are too different to compare. Gerrard would probably harness more votes in a public poll from the inpatient observer that wants to see spectacular goals, assists, rapid movement, strong leadership. Carragher dismissed Scholes’ abilities like he did not understand them. It was a microcosm of why this country does not produce many magicians, but athletes on the football pitch.
Scholes is the quiet professional, the shy man who could do everything except tackle. He was a specialist ‘pre-assist’ maker, retained possession, a quick thinking first-time-passer who kept his head up on the ball. It is perhaps a symbol of the cultural differences abroad that Zidane and Xavi value Scholes far higher.
I realised that in the same way people unfairly compare Gerrard and Scholes, people have done the same to Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. Yes, it is unfair – but it is just irresistible to compare two young British midfielders who are friends at the same club and potentially competing against each other. Wilshere has so often been the more celebrated of the two as the more ‘Gerrardy’. He is the one of the two who would burst through the middle of the pitch with electric directness. Wilshere has a bullish behaviour, a charisma, an unspoken vision that drives the team forward when he plays well. I call it not ‘leadership by example’ but a ‘leadership through energy’.
Ramsey has the first central midfield shirt in the Arsenal team as long as this form and fitness is maintained. If Arsenal want to match the standards of Dortmund, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern they need the runners like Ramsey to rival their pressing machines. Meanwhile, Wilshere’s massively bright future is being blighted by fitness issues and absurd media pressure to be a saviour for an average national team. The sale of Fàbregas has been both his blessing and curse. It gave him opportunity and a platform; it took away a role model and forced him to play when he need not have at such an early stage.
In conclusion, I feel this is why they can play together. They are not clones. Ramsey can be the maintainer of the tempo, Wilshere the accelerant of it. Arsenal found a winning habit using a 4-2-3-1 so Wilshere should be rotated in since Özil has the central position in the attacking 3 behind the striker. With a disciplined and street-wise middleweight alongside Ramsey for balance (currently Flamini but see Sandro, Khedira, Bender as examples) the midfield has what it needs.
Ramsey has a lower profile than Wilshere, is more considered and patient player but no less talented than his English counterpart. Ramsey is strong interceptor off the ball and a controller of the game on it. His work rate and technical quality mean is a modern midfielder. Ramsey has the guile and intelligence to see the things that Wilshere does not. Why? Maybe Wilshere plays the equivalent passes 5-10 yards closer to the opposition goal and not from deeper where he can see more. Wilshere takes the ball to the heart of the battle which causes more chaos but narrows his own angles, whilst the analytical calculations Ramsey makes every millisecond on the ball mark him as a thoroughly different player – and used to mean he was prone to dwelling on the ball. Now he is blossoming into a lethal match-winner and dedicated fighter.
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