Paris (AFP) – Aaron Ramsey’s man-of-the-match display in Wales’s 3-0 win over Russia at Euro 2016 sent a reminder that there is more to Chris Coleman’s side than Gareth Bale.
The 25-year-old Arsenal midfielder scored his team’s opener in Toulouse on Monday — a smooth, lofted finish from Joe Allen’s pass — and teed up Bale for the third goal, his second assist of the tournament.
He has also had five shots on target, more than any other midfielder, and will be a central figure in Saturday’s last 16 clash with Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes in Paris.
“He gives us something that we haven’t got,” Coleman, the Wales manager, said of Ramsey on the eve of the tournament.
“He can do things in the position he plays that other players can’t do. He can start play on the edge of our box and he can finish it off on the edge of the opposition box.
“Some of the performances I’ve seen him put in are total dominance in a football game from a midfielder.
“They are the best I’ve seen from any Welsh midfielder. That’s how good he can be.”
It has been said that international duty represents an escape for Bale, who has been under constant scrutiny at Real Madrid since his world-record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
The same could also be said of Ramsey.
Approaching his ninth season at Arsenal, he divides opinion among club supporters, with some lauding his talent and work rate while others bemoan his occasional tendency to over-elaborate.
The 2013-14 season represented a watershed as Ramsey scored a career-best 16 goals, topped off by an extra-time winner against Hull City in the FA Cup final.
– Make a statement –
But the two years since have seen him shunted around the team as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger uses Ramsey’s industriousness to counter-balance the creative gifts of players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has described Ramsey as “the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League”. But following a stint on the right flank in 2015, he finished last season plugging a hole in defensive midfield.
With his country he is afforded greater attacking liberty, permitted to strike forward alongside Bale when Wales win the ball.
Ramsey unveiled a striking blond hairstyle prior to the tournament and whether he meant to or not, he arrived in France looking like a man intending to make a statement.
Seventeen months Bale’s junior, Ramsey has offered an interesting counterpoint to his team-mate’s stellar rise.
There were two-and-a-half years between their international debuts — Bale making his aged 16 in May 2006, Ramsey aged 17 in November 2008.
But it took Ramsey only a year to follow Bale in leaving his formative club to join a major Premier League side — Bale leaving Southampton for Spurs, Ramsey joining Arsenal from Cardiff City.
During the English winter of 2009-10, two injuries occurred that were to have drastic ramifications for both players.
Bale was struggling to break into the Spurs team when a groin strain suffered by Benoit Assou-Ekotto gave him a run in the team at left-back, enabling him to belatedly get his White Hart Lane career off the ground.
Weeks later, Ramsey sustained a sickening double leg break following a foul by Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross, which would prevent him playing for Arsenal for over a year.
By the time Ramsey made his comeback in March 2011, Bale — now flying on Spurs’ left wing — was enjoying a breakthrough season that would end with him being voted England’s players’ Player of the Year.
Bale’s move to Spain in 2013 elevated him to another dimension, but Coleman believes that his superstar status can be beneficial for Ramsey.
“I think it’s good for him,” Coleman said. “If he’s flying under the radar he won’t have a problem with that.”
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