Written by Olaleye Oluwadamilola
Aaron Ramsey was poised to quit football after the 2022 Qatar World Cup before a change of coach at his club OGC Nice persuaded him to change his mind, a decision that has seen the Welsh midfielder come back on top of his game and in his best form.
Before now, he had endured a miserable turn of events in his career starting from his Arsenal’s exit, to his unfruitful move to Juventus which was plagued with long term injuries and back to his unsuccessful loan move to Scottish side Rangers where he missed a crucial penalty in the Europa League finals against Frankfurt back in the 2021-2022 season.
The former Arsenal midfielder was recently named captain of Wales following the retirement of Gareth Bale after Qatar 2022. Both players struggled as Rob Page’s side exited at the group stage without a victory but Ramsey has been a beneficiary of Nice’s decision to replace Lucien Favre with Didier Digard in January and he is now keen to continue with the Ligue 1 club, after agreeing an initial one-year contract last summer.
Ramsey led Wales against Croatia for his first match as permanent skipper in nearly 11 years after being chosen to lead the side following the retirement of Gareth Bale.
He was first made Wales captain aged 20 in March 2011 by the late Gary Speed before Chris Coleman took the armband from him in October 2012 and gave it to Ashley Williams. Coleman believed Ramsey was placing too much pressure on himself yet more than a decade later, he is mature enough for greater responsibility.
It is the logical move. After Bale, Ramsey was comfortably the Wales player with the best CV and his quiet authority commands the respect of the squad. Once Ramsey had decided not to follow Bale’s example, there were few other candidates.
Yet as Wales took on Croatia in Split on Saturday Ramsey looked as happy as he has been for some time. The turnaround at Nice has been staggering, to the extent the 32-year-old has been discussing a longer-term contract with the Ligue 1 club.
There are various factors behind his revival, yet a pre-Christmas chat with Brailsford – the former British cycling boss now director of sport at Nice, who are owned by Ineos – was crucial.
Only Ramsey knows how close he came to walking away after Wales’ dreadful campaign in Qatar, where they collected only one point and produced three dire performances as they were knocked out at the group stage.
With his family still based in the United Kingdom, Ramsey was struggling to settle on the Cote d’Azur, where Nice were performing poorly and Lucien Favre was an unpopular coach, and while Ramsey was flirting with retirement, Brailsford was among those urging him not to and was allowed to take an extended break over Christmas to consider his future.
It is thought Ramsey was even pondering a move to Championship club Cardiff to be closer to his roots in Caerphilly, seven miles north of the capital. At that stage, the chances of him staying at Nice beyond his initial one-year deal were remote at best.
The turning point was a match that few will ever remember: a 1-0 defeat for Nice in the French Cup against third-tier club Le Puy in January, which finally persuaded the owners to sack Favre and give the job to Didier Digard, who played for Middlesbrough from 2008-10.
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Favre’s departure changed everything for Ramsey. Since then, he has had little thought of retirement, instead playing an instrumental role as Nice have climbed Ligue 1 and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa Conference League. He has made 27 appearances in all competitions become a mentor to some of Nice’s top young players like Khephren Thuram and Terem Moffi.
Like his elder brother Marcus, who plays for Borussia Monchengladbach, Thuram speaks near-flawless English and is seen regularly in conversation with Ramsey at Nice’s training base.
Thanks to Brailsford’s experience of handling top athletes, Ramsey has been trusted to follow his own rest and recovery programme between games, while also working closely with Nice’s medical team.
Ramsey has complete faith in Wales physio Sean Connelly as well as Ryland Morgans, a sports science expert who has worked for Wales as well as Liverpool and Everton. The pair have occasionally flown to France during the season to help Ramsey and have kept in frequent contact with Nice throughout. In that context, Ramsey’s improved fitness record is no coincidence.
It is tempting to wonder, therefore, whether Saturday’s game may have started a new phase in Ramsey’s career. With a playing style based on intelligence rather than speed, technique rather than physique, there is no reason why he cannot continue at a high level for some years.
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