Calvin Ramsay: From Hazlehead to Liverpool - the meteoric but unsurprising rise of Aberdeen's record sale
Imagine being Calvin Ramsay right now. Or at any point over the last 12 months or so. It must be cartoon-like. Walking has been replaced by floating. He doesn’t follow the sun, the sun follows him. Every traffic light he encounters turns green. Sleep must be an inconvenience.
He’s not only played for Aberdeen, his boyhood club, but scored for them as a teenager. He won the Scottish Football Writers' Association Young Player of the Year award for his breakthrough season. Now the former Hazlehead Academy pupil is a Liverpool player and the Dons’ record sale.
On joining the Anfield giants, Ramsay returned to one word six times: “dream”. Calvin, it's definitely not a dream. It's real life. Your life. The rise has been meteoric but unsurprising at the same time.
Last summer, a matter of weeks after getting a taste of first-team football at the age of 17, he enquired about going out on loan for the 2021/22 season, only to be told he was wanted for pre-season by then Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass.
Some players would go in with the thought, ‘I’ll be there to make up the numbers until signings are made’. Not Ramsay. If pre-season was an audition, he wowed the judges. Come July and the first competitive match of the season against Swedish side Hacken in the Europa Conference League, he was given a starting berth.
He started 15 of Aberdeen’s first 17 matches, prior to an injury against Hibs. Impressive in itself. But it becomes even more eye-catching when you consider the importance of his presence in the starting XI. In the early months of the season the ball gravitated to Aberdeen’s right-hand side.
One of the reasons the 18-year-old has been so sought after is the way he handles the ball. Team-mates know they can give it to him and he’ll keep it. No matter the area of the pitch, no matter the pressure he is under.
A midfielder at full-back
In one early fixture, against Qarabag later on in the European campaign, he got a pass from Declan Gallagher on the sideline. Pressured from two directions while constrained by the perimeter of the pitch, he moved back towards his own goal while rolling the ball with the bottom of his left boot before slipping a pass infield to Scott Brown. There was something so refreshing about it. Every fan of a Scottish football team will have ample experience of watching a full-back in such a position do everything they could to turn and hook a percentage ball up the line. For Ramsay that seemed the last thing on his mind. What he produced appeared both effortless and natural.
You could see in that moment a player who was brought up as a central midfielder before a switch to a full-back role against Chelsea in an international youth tournament. Composed, aware, two-footed, comfortable facing his own goal in possession. Those are attributes in a full-back which are now sought after by the best teams.
It was that game against the Azeri side where the promise of this fresh-faced teenager really stood out. Aberdeen were taught a football lesson with only one player in red showing up in a positive manner: Ramsay.
“His performance level was brilliant throughout playing against a real top player or two on that side, three if you include the centre forward as well,” then Aberdeen boss Glass said.
"He's going to be a top, top player.”
Come the end of the Premiership season, of all full-backs, only Celtic Anthony Ralston averaged more successful attacking actions per 90 minutes. Only Rangers duo James Tavernier and Borna Barisic recorded a higher xA (expected assists) per 90. Ramsay was top five for attacking duels won.
Humble but confident
On top of the technical qualities, to be able to play the way Ramsay does requires plenty of mental qualities. You can have the best touch, excellent vision and awareness and wonderful passing range you want but if you are unable to think clearly, play without stress, they become restricted.
Ramsay's ascension from the Aberdeen academy to first-team football to the Premier League is the combination of many factors. His father’s influence, the tutelage at Aberdeen's academy, the trust of coaches Paul Sheerin, Stephen Glass and Jim Goodwin, his own hard work, plus his ability. But it doesn't happen without being level-headed.
Humble with his feet firmly planted on the ground, but also enjoying every moment. Linked with clubs in Serie A and Liverpool. That's class! It should be enjoyed. Any suggestion that Ramsay's form dipped due to transfer interest is wide of the work. There were two bigger issues, a hamstring injury which kept him out for a chunk of the season and then returning to a team which were struggling as a collective.
The chance to improve
Defensively his game requires work. He can sometimes be caught between backing off an opponent and pressing them, making him an easy target to beat, as was seen on the international stage in a Scotland Under-21 clash with Turkey. Such aspects, however, can be rectified, especially at his age and especially at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
The qualities he already possesses are the ones which don’t come easily to football players and exactly why a player has gone from Pittodrie straight to Anfield. Not to the Championship. Not to a Southampton or Wolves. But to Liverpool to work under Jurgen Klopp and alongside fellow full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
A glance at Liverpool’s squad shows he’s going to be a first-team understudy. In what will likely be another 50-plus-game season, it won't be a watching brief. He should get an opportunity.
Debut at 17, an assist on his European bow, a young player of the year award, a goal for his boyhood team and now a move to Liverpool. All before turning 19. An full international cap in his future. The dream of footballers across the world, reality for Calvin Ramsay.
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