Jacob Ramsey deserves England call-up
Aston Villa are in the hunt for Champions League football. After their huge win over Newcastle United, another team who have their eyes in qualification this season, that cannot be denied.
Two goals from Ollie Watkins, taking his recent tally to 11 goals in 12 games, made him the story. But the man who opened the scoring at Villa Park, Jacob Ramsey, deserves a huge amount of credit for his form under Unai Emery, too. His energy, drive and goal threat have given Villa’s midfield an entirely new impetus; that has been key to putting manager Unai Emery‘s name in the hat for Manager of the Year, despite the fact he only arrived at the club in October.
Watkins and Ramsey are evidence of how good Emery’s work has been. They are the two players who have seen the biggest change in their roles since former manager Steven Gerrard’s exit. Whereas Watkins has won the battle with Danny Ings to be the main striker, with the latter moving to West Ham in January, Ramsey has pushed forward. Instead of playing a key role in the build up of attacks, he is now finishing them off, and adding an extra threat and more fluidity in the final third.
It was the striker who had the presence of mind to head down for Ramsey to fire past Nick Pope after just 11 minutes, sending Villa on their way. It was their fifth win in a row, but it is worth remembering that it came against a side who saw an identical run end that afternoon. Newcastle are a very good side, particularly defensively, but Villa made them look average, arguably for the first time this season.
The entire team was struggling by the end of Gerrard’s reign; they badly lacked an identity and a purpose. But Ramsey still impressed; his skillset lends to every type of midfield role, and his passing range and positional intelligence mean he will always be a good option box to box; but under Emery he is able to stretch his legs and run into space higher up the pitch and it is no surprise that he is now playing the best football of his fledgling career.
Players like Watkins and Tyrone Mings have been regulars in the England squad in more difficult times for Villa; surely it is only a matter of time until the 20-year-old makes an appearance in Gareth Southgate’s squad? If not, then he would be incredibly unlucky.
It is certainly in his sights; Ramsey has never been shy of stating what he wants. After the win over Newcastle, he was asked directly whether Europe was part of the conversation in the Villa dressing room. After a smirk and a quick glance at Watkins, he admitted it very much was.
And international recognition is on his agenda, too.
“I feel like I am ready for it,” Ramsey told Sky Sports. “I think when the senior staff and Gareth decide to pick me I think that’s when my best moment will come.
“Obviously they will know more about me by watching the under-21s games and watching Villa, but obviously it’s up to them to decide who are the best players to play for the country and I want to play with those players and in that team, I have to be scoring or assisting every week.”
There is obviously still improvement to be made, but his growth is clear too. After 28 games this season, he is on four goals, just two behind last season’s tally of six, having played six fewer games. There are eight remaining of the campaign, and the way he and Villa are going, he has every chance of surpassing it. But his assists, five competed to one last year, are the best way to illustrate his developing as an attacking midfielder. He is thriving in a more advanced role; it is there that he will have a greater chance of breaking in with England, too.
When asked about Ramsey’s development, Southgate was complimentary, but also honest about where he stood in the pecking order.
“I think Jacob is doing really well. I think at this moment in time Conor Gallagher is slightly ahead. They are both pushing Jude Bellingham, who has been in our squad for a while.
“Those two are really pushing Jude, there’s no doubt about that, and pushing some of the older players in that group as well.
“That’s an area where Curtis Jones is also emerging at Liverpool. There are some good attacking midfield players that are good at pressing the opposition and look like they can take goals as well.”
Things have steely changed since then. Although Gallagher is still a highly rated player by Southgate, his impact in a floundering Chelsea side pales in comparison to Ramsey’s at Villa, and Jones’ trajectory is not at the same level as either. His Liverpool future is far from certain.
Ever since he emerged, Ramsey has been knocking on the England door. He is an ideal fit for Southgate’s team, and questions will have to be asked if recognition doesn’t arrive this summer, at the height of his and his club’s form.