'Felt I had something to prove' - England's Aaron Ramsdale goes into Euro 2020 with a smile on his face after turning around Sheffield United fortunes
It speaks volumes about Aaron Ramsdale’s character and humility that his first public comments after being called up to the England squad were to express his sympathy to Dean Henderson, the injured goalkeeper that he was replacing.
“My immediate thoughts are with Deano,” Ramsdale wrote on one of his social media platforms, “as I know how much it meant to him to be involved.”
A torn glute for Henderson opened the door for Ramsdale, who was effectively named England’s fourth-choice senior goalkeeper when Gareth Southgate named him in his initial squad for the Euros, and the Sheffield United No.1 will now undergo the rigorous Covid-19 testing procedures before joining up with Southgate’s squad ahead of Friday’s clash with Scotland at Wembley.
Ramsdale will at least be involved – tournament rules obligate squads to name three goalkeepers in their 23-man matchday squad, meaning three outfield players must miss out – on Friday evening and even if he doesn’t play a minute this summer, winning a first senior cap in the process, his inclusion is justified reward for his form last season with United as the Blades were relegated from the Premier League.
Aaron Ramsdale s classy message to Man Utd's Dean Henderson after Sheffield United goalkeeper is called up to England's Euros squad
By his own admission, Ramsdale endured a difficult start to his second spell at United after returning from Bournemouth but he was never as shaky as some observers were determined to make others believe.
Instead, his biggest problem was that he was not Henderson, the man who spent the previous two seasons in the Bramall Lane goalmouth before returning to Manchester United. Ramsdale had huge gloves to fill as the weight of expectation loomed large. “In the first few games and months, I had the world on my shoulders,” he admitted recently.
“Everyone was saying I had something to prove and I took that too literally. I felt like I had something to prove. I try to play with a smile on my face and I was having honest conversations with my family.
“It might have looked like I was having too much fun at times when we were losing. But that was just me trying to enjoy my football and trying to get back to having a smile on my face. And I think it came out in my performances.”
It certainly did. With just 20 goals scored in their 38 Premier League games last season, arguably no goalkeeper on the planet would have kept United in the top flight and their 63 goals conceded would have been much, much higher but for Ramsdale’s heroics, particularly in the final echoes of United’s season long after relegation had been confirmed.
Ramsdale finished the season having made 147 saves in 38 games – having been afforded nowhere near the level of protection by the defenders in front of him that Henderson enjoyed – and only Sam Johnstone, also in Southgate’s Euros squad, made more with 166.
He also walked away with the fans’ player of the year award – his second in two seasons, having won the same gong in his last season at Bournemouth. Intriguingly, both campaigns ended in relegation – but even if the finger of blame for United’s can be pointed in a number of directions, depending on agenda, it certainly shouldn’t be aimed at the goalkeeper.
“It means everything to me, to be honest,” said Ramsdale of his player of the year and young player of the year awards. “I’d have preferred to stay up than win two awards, of course, but that’s football and it’s a huge honour to be voted by the fans.
“After a tough start some of them wrote me off, which is their decision, and some of them stuck by me. It looks like I’ve turned a few of them around, which I’m thankful for because this is where I want to be.
“I want to play in front of these fans.”
That will be music to the ears of United fans who have grown weary over the years of the club selling the family silver and having to watch them flourish elsewhere. Ramsdale becomes the fourth graduate of United’s academy in England’s Euros squad - alongside Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and Dom Calvert-Lewin, who were all sold by United for fees well below their current values – while Ramsdale’s good friend David Brooks will line up for Wales.
Ramsdale’s situation is almost the reverse – he made a big-money return to Bramall Lane after being sold to AFC Bournemouth to free up some cash in the League One title-winning season – and, as The Star revealed recently, officials at Bramall Lane now privately value Ramsdale at around £40m, which will hopefully put off any vultures circling around the carcass of United’s Premier League relegation this summer.
Spurs and Wolves are the latest club to be linked with the 23-year-old who, to his credit, is content to stay at Bramall Lane and help the club get back into the Premier League under Slavisa Jokanović, the Blades’ new manager.
After back-to-back relegations, Ramsdale could be forgiven if he was looking forward to what should be an easier time of things in the Championship next season and, along with Johnstone if he stays at West Brom, will hope that playing in the second-tier does not impact his international ambitions. If it does, and if United don’t return to the Premier League quickly, then some difficult conversations will probably follow.
But that can wait for the future. For now, Ramsdale is settled at Bramall Lane and set to become the first United player to represent England in a major tournament since Alan Hodgkinson at the 1962 World Cup Chile. No wonder he has a smile on his face.