James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why I hope I'm proved wrong about Aaron Ramsdale's move to Arsenal
Yes, I get it.
I know it’s easy for me to say. Not least because I’m not the one who would be kissing goodbye to guaranteed Premier League football and a wage packet that could probably clear the debts of some third world countries.
But I still believe, genuinely and sincerely, that Aaron Ramsdale has made a mistake by deciding to join Arsenal. Why? Because I think it’s a case of ‘Right club, wrong moment’ for someone who, by his own admission, craves stability and wants to put down roots. In both a personal and a professional sense.
Ramsdale has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the country since returning to Sheffield United last summer. The talent, which persuaded AFC Bournemouth to sign him in 2017, was already in evidence before some superb individual displays during the second half of last season saw him drafted into the England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
So of course Mikel Arteta was interested. He was perfectly entitled to be. Just as United were within their rights to try and get their best possible price for the youngster because he is under contract to them and no one else. (Whether or not they succeeded on that front, however, is open to debate).
With his employers now back in the Championship and Gareth Southgate clearly among a growing army of admirers, the prospect of a switch to north London boasted obvious attractions for Ramsdale, who will be unveiled there shortly.
He is joining one of the most famous names in the game and competing, if Arsenal really are serious about pitching him into their starting eleven, against some of the best in world football.
But he will also be arriving at a team which appears to be in transition. Oh, and performing in front of a fan base which, for perfectly understandable reasons, isn’t shy of voicing its displeasure at either the playing staff, the coaching staff or more commonly an owner perceived to be charging them top dollar and giving back dimes in return.
Although it pains me to say so, if Ramsdale’s career trajectory continues on the same curve, he have outgrown United at some point. A move was inevitable. But at 23, he is still a baby given that players in his position don’t mature until their early Thirties. If he had stayed at United, then time was on his side.
That isn’t a commodity in plentiful supply at Arsenal. Every mistake he makes, (and yes, given his inexperience he will make some), will be seized upon and plastered all over the back pages. It is for precisely that reason why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, after recalling Dean Henderson from his loan spell at Bramall Lane, eased him into life at Manchester United rather than checked the lad straight in at the deep end.
Ramsdale received a heads-up about just how ruthless life at the elite of the elite can be last week, when Arteta’s employers began placing stories in the media about pursuing other targets. Clearly frustrated by United’s refusal to lower their £40m asking price, what officials in north London were really doing was telling Ramsdale: “Over to you now son. If you want to come here, you're going to have to kick off and make a nuisance of yourself.”
It’s how the business works. It’s actually a pretty common tactic, albeit without the public narrative. But in this instance, it also placed Ramsdale in an unenviable position. Because if he had, and United still refused to bend, then he’d have rightly been criticised by United’s followers for disrespecting their badge.
What Ramsdale needs right now, after being relegated in successive seasons through no fault of his own, is time to grow, learn and continue mastering his craft without being hindered by politics and off-the-pitch distractions.
He could have done that at United, for at least another 12 months. I just fear, at such a critical phase of his development, that won’t be the case at Arsenal.
He recovered, proving his mental strength in the process, from a difficult start to his time back in South Yorkshire to deservedly be named as United’s player of the season. But make no mistake, if that had happened at the Emirates Stadium, it would have finished him. At least at Arsenal. There would have been no coming back. Without trying to sound like Rafa Benitez: End of. Fact.
Of course, Ramsdale might blossom in his new surroundings. I actually hope he does.
But he’s gone now. And I’m concerned, looking forward, that this isn’t a great deal for United who enter Saturday’s meeting with Huddersfield Town on the back of a 4-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
Yes, they have turned a profit on the initial £16m payment they made to acquire him, with Arsenal’s first cheque understood to be in the region of £24m to £26m. But they should have sourced a replacement before he was allowed to leave the building. Because they will now be forced to spend more to bring one in. And, if manager Slavisa Jokanovic is limited to a loan, the market will have recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic by the time United recruit a permanent successor. If so, when they eventually get around to doing so, there is a very real danger they could find themselves down on the deal.
I don’t blame United for doing business. They probably had no real choice.
But I do worry they have failed to react quickly enough to the situation. And I also fear, although he will feel Arsenal were offering him a once in a lifetime opportunity, that Ramsdale might live to regret his choice.
I hope, sincerely, that I’m proved wrong on both counts.