What Aaron Ramsdale has done to win the respect of everyone at Sheffield United
Putting the ball in the back of the net might have been an issue for Sheffield United this season, after scoring only 18 times in their last 35 outings.
But if they can rediscover the defensive solidity which once made them one of the most admired teams in the Premier League, Paul Heckingbottom is convinced they can help Aaron Ramsdale confirm his reputation as one of England’s most promising goalkeepers after being impressed by the youngster’s strength of character.
Signed to replace Dean Henderson, who became a cult hero among supporters during his time on loan at Bramall Lane, both the scale of the challenge and size of the £18m transfer fee initially appeared to weigh heavily on Ramsdale’s shoulders. His performances at the beginning of the campaign were not as flaky as some critics tried to pretend at the time. But they were pockmarked with mistakes, which prompted others to question if he was up to the job of succeeding someone destined to become a senior England international.
Eight months on, although United have remained on a downward spiral, Ramsdale’s form is now one of the few positive things to emerge from a campaign which is guaranteed to end in relegation.
And that, according to interim manager Paul Heckingbottom, confirms the 22-year-old possesses one of the most important personality traits a professional football requires in order to reach the pinnacle of the game - something his predecessor Chris Wilder also insisted Gareth Southgate believes Ransdale is capable of before leaving Bramall Lane nearly eight weeks ago.
“I’ve spoken all along about how impressed I am with Aaron,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s impressed me massively in fact.
“That’s because he came through a really tough spell, stayed focused and recovered. That, for me, tells you what he’s all about as a person.”
“He’s obviously made some really big saves for us lately,” Heckingbottom continued, ahead of this weekend’s game against Everton. “But perhaps even more so than that, it’s been the belief and single-mindedness he has shown to keep on going and show people what he’s made of. Because it would have been easier for him just to fold. He didn’t. And that takes something a little bit special in my book.”
After adding to his catalogue of exceptional saves during last weekend’s defeat by Crystal Palace, Ramsdale now appears David McGoldrick’s only genuine rival in the battle to become United;s player of the year. George Baldock could also come into contention, together with Chris Basham who maintained his consistency until injury wrecked his rhythm earlier this year. United’s leading goalscorer this term, McGoldrick is likely to get the nod. But Ramsdale is expected to push him close.
“Aaron has shown real character,” Heckingbottom said. “And that’s how you come through tough times.
“We’re in a tough moment now, there’s no point in denying it because everybody knows and understands that. But it’s how you respond to tough times that counts, because in football as in life you never have it all your own way all the time.”