Disclaimer: This is in no way, shape, or form considered a final statement about Aaron Ramsey being Steven Gerrard's equal in any way.
I merely wish to expound upon an idea that came to me during an early-morning walkabout: that the Welshman somewhat resembles the iconic English midfielder in terms of how they play, and their positioning on the field.
Even for Arsene Wenger, renowned connoisseur when it comes to scouting young talent, this seemed a bit extreme.
During Euro 2008 the French manager flew out a young Welsh prodigy and his family to Switzerland on a private jet with the intention of persuading one Aaron Ramsey to commit his future to the Arsenal cause.
We know little of what was said in that meeting, but we do know the ensuing result.
Ramsey, 17 at the time, left Cardiff City for Arsenal for a fee of £4.8 million despite serious interest from Manchester United and other top clubs. Wenger had sealed the arrival of yet another midfield starlet.
The Welshman wasted little time in making an impact with the first team, scoring in the 2008 Champions League group stage away to Fenerbace.
He was in no way an incontrovertible starter, but he did appear in 22 games overall in 2008-09, showing some glimpses of the boundless talent that had first intrigued Wenger.
There was the power, eye for the pass, and attacking intent mixed well with uncommon determination. The kid simply "got it."
2009-10 looked to be the year that Ramsey would make his breakthrough. He had signed a long-term contract extension with the club the summer before the season, and he was getting more games.
He had appeared 29 times for Arsenal in all competitions by the end of February 2010, and had scored a couple fantastic goals, showing superb technique and savoir-faire in front of goal so rare in most midfielders.
Then came the horrific double-leg break suffered away to Stoke City. Ramsey's once-rapid ascent came to a screeching halt, and he was forced to convalesce for nearly eight months before finally returning to full training.
Interestingly enough, Ramsey has shown few of the ill-effects and niggling injuries that have plagued other Arsenal players who've endured leg breaks (Eduardo, Abou Diaby) since his return to Arsenal last spring after loan spells with Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City.
He has built upon his comeback at the tail end of last season to make 26 appearances for the Gunners in 2011-12, with Wenger entrusting him with the attacking midfield role in the 4-2-3-1 formation most recently occupied by Cesc Fabregas.
While Ramsey is in no way a carbon copy of the since-departed Catalan (speaking of comparisons—see title of this slideshow), he does earn some favorable comparisons to a certain English midfielder from certain pundits.
Steven Gerrard is a sublime technician himself, who has forged a glittering career based upon hard-nosed determination mixed with incredible skill.
Ramsey is nowhere near Gerrard at this juncture in his career—in fairness, he has been far too inconsistent in matches this season, often trying unnecessary bits of individual skill when a simple pass would suffice—but he does possess the talent to make a name for himself much in the way the Liverpudlian has for Liverpool over the years.
Here's five ways that Ramsey mirrors Gerrard. Well, sort of (ducks from objects thrown at him).
In describing Steven Gerrard's game, it's easy to fall victim to hyperbole. The long-time Liverpool skipper won't wow you with step-overs a la Ronaldo, or mazy runs like Messi.
Instead, he spreads play superbly and can attack defenses with effective dribbling and pinpoint crosses. Remember how his entry against Newcastle back in late December—his first for the club since suffering a nasty groin injury—added a modicum of added class to the proceedings?
Then, there are the belters he hits with that wonderful right foot of his (remember Olympiakos—Andy Gray nearly peed himself in excitement).
Ramsey has shown a propensity in his own right for power—he was an underrated finisher before the leg break, and while the goals haven't flowed since his return from that horrid injury, he can still be counted upon to find the net in important fixtures (he grabbed the lone goal for Arsenal in the 2-1 loss away to Tottenham on Oct. 2, and nabbed the last-gasp winner against Olympiakos in Champions League).
The power, as evidenced in this video, is there. Odds are with more time under his belt, Ramsey will rediscover it.
Ramsey has been the source of five assists in league play this season, a number of which have been breathtaking.
Whether or not he learned the lobbed assist from the since-departed Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas—who often used that little trick a season ago to devastating effect—is unknown.
What is evident is that, when tasked with finding that killer final ball, Ramsey can deliver.
It is that kind of panache with an end result that separates the great from the good.
Ramsey still loses himself from time to time trying tricks and flicks when a more direct approach would be more effective, and in that, he can learn from Gerrard, whose accurate crosses and through balls have set England alight for more than a decade.
In France, they call it the "mentalite de fer;" an ability to forge ahead through the most harrowing times, keeping tunnel vision on the end goal no matter how bad things get.
Aaron Ramsey had to do it during his long recuperation from the aforementioned double leg-break.
The rehabilitation process must have become tedious—even insufferable at times—but Ramsey will be all the stronger for the rest of his career because he was subjected to such a strenuous mental test. Certain moments make a man, and I believe Ramsey passed a year or more ago.
Gerrard, while never suffering an injury of that register, has nonetheless been subjected to his own consistent problems.
A groin injury suffered last season sent the midfielder to the sidelines for far longer than anyone expected. It was in those months of repeated setbacks that Gerrard admitted to contemplating retirement.
There is precious little that separates the legends from the greats. One of those markers is mentality—it's why Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best in the world, while Ricardo Quaresma (deemed to be the more talented of the two Portuguese while both were youngsters at Sporting Lisbon, has failed to hit the same heights).
Looks like both of these men, one young, one older, has it. In spades.
Watching Gerrard come on as a substitute in recent matches for Liverpool as he nursed himself back into fighting shape was to be made witness to a man immediately able to make an impact on the occasion.
He makes matches that much more entertaining with his accuracy, drive, and commitment.
And technique. The Englishman's prowess in that field is truly a wonder to behold, and it was a major reason why Zinedine Zidane, who himself knows a thing or two about playing midfield, called Stevie G "the best in the world" three seasons ago.
I'll never forget watching Liverpool vs. Arsenal in mid-December, 2009 at Anfield. Though the Reds would lose 1-2 to the Gunners that cold night, it was an early combination play by Gerrard and Fernando Torres that caught my attention in that truly singular way (alongside Andrei Arshavin's cracker of a winner, naturally).
The two Reds exchanged a rapid-fire exchange of give-and-go passes of the one-touch variety before Gerrard sent Torres in behind the Arsenal defense with an immaculate through ball. It was the closest thing to choreographed art I'd seen that season (and I was plying my trade as a student in Paris, mind you, with access to the Louvre).
Ramsey can do the same—there are occasions where he approaches the standard of the England international with his passing and distribution.
He is nowhere near Gerrard's rival in terms of consistency, but he is on his way.
Gerrard, as the French say, "Repond oui" when the big matches arise—"Responds yes." That is, he does not shrink from the occasion.
He has proved to be Liverpool's savior on countless occasions—Champions League, FA Cup, it matters little, he proved decisive.
In previous finals, he has provided that rare bit of class to deliver his side to glory (the unfathomable comeback against Milan in Istanbul obviously the top of his career's prodigious layer cake).
Ramsey has yet to play on that kind of stage, but he was named Man of the Match in Wales' recent Euro 2012 qualifier against England at Wembley. It was the sort of performance expected, even demanded really, from a team captain facing a heavily-favored side.
I will never forget Arsenal's match against Tottenham this past October. The loss was infuriating, but Ramsey's goal did provide a spark of positive intrigue for a moment in the north London derby.
The Welshman had, by all accounts, played poorly in that match. Yet there he was, crashing into the goal-mouth area early in the second half, latching onto a low cross and smashing a shot into the back of Brad Friedel's net.
To quote Norman Hubbard of Soccernet's clever turn of phrase in a wayward way, the American's "bank" was open on that occasion by a Welshman.
The best can drift through matches for what seems like interminable lapses before jolting you back to attention with a vital contribution. Like that goal against Spurs.