Danny Hall: Sheffield United can quash their 'selling club' reputation over Aaron Ramsdale - Here's why it's vital he stays at Bramall Lane amid Arsenal interest
It is threatening to become the saga of the summer; one that supporters are probably as bored of reading about as journalists are tired of writing about.
But there is a reason that Arsenal’s pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale has dominated the news agenda almost since news of the Gunners’ interest first went into print and onto the airwaves. It is a potentially seismic move, for all parties.
If Ramsdale is lured to the capital, it will not just smash the record fee United have received for a player but completely obliterate it. The move would be financially rewarding for the player, too, with Arsenal known to be one of the Premier League’s highest-paying clubs. A win/win for all concerned then, right? Well, not necessarily.
United, it must be said, have so far handled the situation impeccably. In previous years, and under earlier regimes, the suspicion amongst the club’s fanbase is that the Blades would have caved much earlier and cashed in on Ramsdale, probably for not much more than he cost and possibly with his teammate Sander Berge thrown in for good measure.
It will have been for that reason that news of Arsenal’s interest in both men was met with an almighty sigh from the red and white half of Sheffield. Not even anger; many United fans are past that, having seen the family silver sold on the cheap over the years, going all the way back to the era of Tony Currie and Mick Jones.
But times seem to be a-changing. Granted, two years at Premier League level, even in Covid-19 times, has given the club a firmer footing than it arguably has ever enjoyed in its long history. But the financial shortfall of losing top-flight status is keenly felt at the best of times, never mind amidst a global pandemic. United could easily have cashed in on their prized assets earlier. But, so far at least, they have stood firm.
For me, and certainly with Ramsdale, they should continue to do so. Berge’s situation is a little different. An established international player with Champions League experience on his CV, the plan was not for Berge to set foot into the Championship instead when he became United’s record signing last January. The presence of a relegation release clause in his contract alone signifies that, for which he should not be criticised.
Ramsdale’s affiliation with United is different. Unlike Berge – again, not a criticism in the slightest – he grew up immersed in United’s academy and dreaming of playing for the first team. His unforgettable summer as part of England’s Euros squad may have altered his ambitions a little, but there is so far little suggestion from inside Bramall Lane that he will demand a move away.
That may well change if United do not get back into the Premier League at the first attempt but, in hiring Slavisa Jokanović, the Lane board have certainly put their money where their mouths are in pursuit of that goal. There are extenuating factors that can explain the lack of transfer activity so far, as outlined in these pages recently, but patience is beginning to wear thin on that front on the terraces.
With less than a fortnight until that first game of the season at home to Birmingham City, United have a new manager, no new arrivals and two players that could conceivably still be prised away. Jokanović is understood to have spoken to Ramsdale, who could feature in United’s friendly against Doncaster Rovers on Wednesday evening, and his representatives to gauge their views on Arsenal’s interest and was expected to tell the goalkeeper how integral he is to his plans this coming season.
His view will be a pragmatic one, too. If Ramsdale was sold this close to the new season, Jokanović either faces shifting his search for a new goalkeeper when other areas of his squad, including central defence and midfield, are more pressing. Or going with the options at his disposal.
Either option is fraught with difficulty. Wes Foderingham and Michael Verrips are fine goalkeepers in their own right, but not of comparable qualities to a man thought of highly by the European Championship finalists. And, as Jokanović will well know, finding a replacement of that standard, for the right price, will not be easy. Especially when selling clubs will be well aware of the cash United will have received for Ramsdale.
Agents will use that in an attempt to squeeze more cash for their client – and, subsequently, themselves – too. A player originally available for, say, £5m and £10,000 a week, suddenly costs £10m and wants £25,000. Even a loan does not satisfy the problem completely. Dean Henderson, Ramsdale’s predecessor in the Bramall Lane goalmouth, was an inspired signing. But when he didn’t return for a third season, United faced a gaping hole in their squad that was filled with Ramsdale after Bournemouth’s relegation. Would they get so lucky again?
For his part, Ramsdale told journalists last season that he is keen to put down roots at a club after moving from the Steel City to the south coast and then back again in the space of a few years. Playing in the Championship is not the barrier to England ambitions that it once was – see Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips being called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad before playing a minute in the Premier League – and if United can continue to hold firm, and next season goes to plan, Ramsdale could be United’s established No.1 for the next 10 to 15 years. And, more importantly, a seismic line in the sand will have been drawn to quash United’s ‘selling club’ reputation once and for all.