James Shield's Sheffield United Column: There's a lesson in the Aaron Ramsdale story for us all
Six months ago he was crap. And that’s putting it politely.
There was no shortage of folk, after watching his early season performances, happy to use much more colourful language to describe Aaron Ramsdale’s capabilities as a goalkeeper.
Now, after being drafted into the England squad for the European Championships, Sheffield United’s reigning player of the year is the toast of the Steel City. Well, the red and white half anyway.
Ramsdale’s double quick journey from zero to hero is a heartwarming tale of how talent, patience and lashings of perseverance can triumph over adversity. If he wasn’t such a decent lad, the 23-year-old would probably have signed off his Instagram post, which marked his call-up, by telling everyone who doubted him where to shove their criticism. And few could blame him. Instead, he expressed sympathy for the injured Dean Henderson, whose iffy hip prompted his dash to St George’s Park on Tuesday morning.
“While I’m delighted to be joining back up with England,” Ramsdale, who progressed through the Steelphalt Academy before joining AFC Bournemouth, wrote on his Instagram page, “My immediate thoughts are with Deano because I know how much it meant to him to be involved.”
“I have now been given the honour and to be involved in a major tournament are what dreams are made of,” he continued. “This is a special moment for me and my family.”
Predictably much of the coverage surrounding Ramsdale’s promotion, including plenty of my own, has focused on how he battled back from a catastrophic start to his second spell with United to first rescue and then actually embellish his reputation. I say catastrophic, even though it was actually chequered, because perceptions are sometimes more important than reality. Particularly when it comes to shaping the narrative surrounding a footballer, and thus influencing both their confidence and their mood.
“He’ll come through it,” said Slavisa Jokanovic’s predecessor Chris Wilder, who was responsible for bringing Ramsdale back to South Yorkshire, following one less than perfect display. “He’s a young player and I wish that got recognised.”
But the story of how Ramsdale made his detractors look foolish also contains an invaluable lesson for everyone who either follows or covers the game.
In a world where instant gratification isn’t simply hoped for but expected, where black and white are the only colours on some people’s palettes and ‘free speech’ is the preserve of Twitter activists - I use the word ‘activist’ loosely because punching characters into a computer hardly constitutes fighting for a cause - we are encouraged to make immediate judgements on a player’s worth. Judgements that stick and are seldom reversed.
But Ramsdale’s remarkable rise to prominence, the latest example of how not every gifted sportsperson can hit the ground running, underlines just how ridiculous this habit is.
It is something we should all remember when, as will inevitably happen, one of the new players set to arrive at Bramall Lane this summer doesn’t get off to a flyer. Let’s give them a year before deciding if they’re fit for purpose or not.