Still only 24, Aaron Ramsdale has seen it all. The goalkeeper suffered back-to-back relegations from the Premier League with Bournemouth and Sheffield United, but a switch to Arsenal in 2021 has turned things around for him.
Ramsdale has gone on to become first-choice goalkeeper for Arsenal, with the Gunners enjoying a five-point advantage at the top in the English first division this season.
His seven clean sheets – on level with England teammate Nick Pope for Newcastle – have also helped Arsenal concede just 11 goals in 14 matches, propelling Ramsdale into starting XI contention when England open their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Three years ago though, a World Cup appearance looked like a long distant dream with Sheffield sending him on loan to AFC Wimbledon. Before that he had a short spell with Chesterfield in 2018 when the club were relegated from the fourth tier as Ramsdale watched England make it to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 at a bar in Spain.
“There are times when it is a pinch yourself moment,” he said at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex yesterday, perhaps still reminiscing the difficult moments he has had in his short career.
“I speak to my parents or my wife and I’m in a really good place, especially after the first few years of my career learning my trade in difficult situations. It is really enjoyable at the moment and that hard work - you reap your rewards. I’m here now but that does not mean anything. I have to get my head down to try and get into the team,” he added.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been Gareth Southgate’s No 1 choice for the last two years and is still the favourite to start against Iran on Monday, but Ramsdale knows he is not far off from taking that spot. “Fair. I see as it is,’ he said, when asked about competition for places among the England goalkeepers.
“Jordan (Pickford) has done extremely well for England and he is in fine form for Everton. And so is Popey (Nick Pope) with Newcastle. I’m not the only one racking up the clean sheets. We have a great bond between the goalkeepers and Martyn Margetson (goalkeeping coach) looks after us really well. You need three goalkeepers to train properly to get the No 1 to his best. We are all training as a No. 1 and it will be difficult for the other two to flip the switch. But it is something me, Popey and to a lesser extent Jordan have done before. So whoever gets that first game will have our full support. But you never know with tournament football. You always have to be ready to be called upon,” he noted.
Ramsdale was part of England squad at the delayed Euro 2020 last year, where they lost to Italy in the final on penalties, although he did not play a single minute at the tournament. He has only made three appearances for Three Lions, making his debut in the 10-0 win over San Marino in November. He has since made two appearances in the UEFA Nations League, playing in the goalless draw with Italy in June before conceding four to Hungary three days later.
Ramsdale’s family – especially his father — have had a huge imprint in his development with the goalkeeper joking that his dad “might have a heart attack” if he starts for the Three Lions at the World Cup.
“There were definitely a few tears shed from him,” said Ramsdale, when asked how his dad reacted to his World Cup call-up. “If I actually make it on the pitch he might not return home. He might have a heart-attack! It’s special for my family and especially my parents who have driven me up and down the country and around the world. He won’t have any nails left,” he chuckled.
England – who also face USA and Wales in Group B – go into the World Cup under the radar with Brazil and Argentina being labelled as favourites.
Southgate’s men have quality all over the pitch but their recent performances have been underwhelming as they are going into the football’s grandest stage having not won any of their past six games and were relegated to the Nations League second tier for the first time following defeat by Italy in September.
Ramsdale said England’s poor recent results have not damaged their confidence. “No, confidence has not been affected. If anything, it’s given us extra motivation. We have added motivation to turn our form around and put those results behind us. We’re going into this full of confidence knowing how good we are,” he said.
England’s Aaron Ramsdale (also left) during a press conference at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex on Friday. (Reuters)