12 April 2013

"They drew first blood, not me": Aaron Ramsey, the pick to click

In what I hope will become a bit of a tradition, my last selection for a pick to click, Tomáš Rosický, absolutely crushed it, netting twice and clearing the line as well. I won't get into whether I have prophetic powers or telekinesis, but I'm going to continue pretending that I do have one or both. With that in mind, it's Aaron Ramsey's turn. I had trouble coming up with something as, um, clever as "Pický to Clický: Tomas Rosický", so instead, we're playing off of Ramsey's nickname, which also reminds us that Norwich did draw first blood by winning back in October. I'm looking to Ramsey to lead the quest for revenge against the Canaries. He very nearly stole the show last week against West Brom with a shot
that went inches wide and a near-assist on Rosický's second goal. Instead of getting to share the headlines, he had to settle for yet another quiet but consistent performance, the kind that will rarely draw rave reviews and that flies below the radar.

Indeed, that role seems to be playing to Ramsey's strengths, and it goes a long way towards explaining his maturation and improvement. For too long, it seemed like he was pressing the issue, trying to thread the needle or make a deft dribble when the simpler move would have gotten the job done. For a long time, criticism was heaped on the lad, at times rightly so, but more often too harshly, if not too quickly. He's still only 22 and has been asked to replace one of our best midfielders of the last ten years after suffering one of the ugliest looking injuries I've seen an athlete suffer, second-place behind Joe Theismann's leg-snap back in 1985. Do yourself a favor and don't google either one.

Each of those hurdles was immense on its own; for him to have to overcome both must have felt impossible to him at times. The pressure to match Fabregas's style, leadership, and achievements surely compelled Ramsey to try to do more than he was capable of, comfortable with, or good at, and in his rush to fill that voidone publicly deepened by fans, the media, teammates, Fabregas himselfhe made mistakes and at times played poorly. It's been almost two years now, and this pressure seems to have finally fallen from Ramsey's shoulders as the memory of Fabregas wanes and his own confidence waxes. Further, Ramsey seems to be creating his own niche rather than struggling to imitate or fill the one Fabregas had.

Of course, no mention of Ramsey can omit the obligatory reference to the Shawcross Incident. I won't go into my opinions on Shawcross himself or explore whether it was a vicious hit or horrible accident. Only Shawcross and his maker know. As far as I can find, Shawcross hasn't apologized, and Ramsey opposed adding him to the Welsh national team. Aside from the actual injury, which took a long, long time to repair, the damage to Ramsey's confidence must have also been enormous. Each 50-50 ball, each light twist of the ankle, each joust or mis-struck ball, must have flooded Ramsey's mind and heart with images and sensations from that horrific tackle. Finding the mental fortitude to overcome that is a testament to Ramsey's quality; that kind of grit and perseverance show his character.

He's come back perhaps more determined to earn a spot on the field, as evinced by his willingness to play a wide variety of roles all over the pitch. For all I know, he's our third-string keeper as well. In the short run, this might hamper his development as he plays in unfamiliar positions and is asked to do something different every other week. In the long run, this might expand his skill-set and understanding of the game as he learns to view it from different angles. This, combined with his impressive work-rate, is finally giving Ramsey a chance to prove his critics wrong and to show that his comeback from that injury is very nearly complete.

After all, in his youth, he drew the eyes of some of England's biggest clubs and drew favorable comparisons with his countryman Gareth Bale, and not for nothing. I'm not going to suggest that he'll become a goal-scoring phenom like Bale has, but I do see him having a break-out game, scoring one and perhaps assisting another, as he reclaims the quality and the potential that led to signing him in the first place.