It is almost exactly four years since Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross broke the leg of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. On 27 February 2010, a reckless challenge saw Ramsey suffer fractures to both the fibula and tibia of his right leg.
The incident damaged Shawcross' reputation and threatened Ramsey's career. In this piece, we look at the respective trajectories of their careers since that fateful day.
For Ramsey, the injury came at a particularly bad time. He was in his second season with Arsenal and was beginning to make a real case for regular first-team involvement. In the previous month, he had enjoyed his best Gunners display to date, scoring and being awarded the Man of the Match in an FA Cup third-round victory at Upton Park. After the match, Arsene Wenger told Arsenal.com:
He improves from game to game. I set him a target at the start of the season to play between 15 and 20 games and it looks like he will get that very quickly. He has a chance to play at the moment. He can play on the flanks and at full-back. He is physically very strong, quick and has a good stamina. He is a good dribbler but of course his best position is centre midfield because he is a goalscorer as well.
It seemed as if the football world was at Ramsey’s feet. Then, cruelly, all that promise seemed to be whisked away in an instant.
As with any serious injury, there were initial doubts over whether Ramsey would ever come back to a competitive level. However, even once those fears were allayed, it remained a hugely difficult recovery process.
Even when he eventually returned to fitness, he was so far from being considered for the Arsenal team that he was sent for a loan spell at Championship side Nottingham Forest. Ramsey failed to make a significant impact at Forest, appearing just five times before returning to Arsenal.
He was then sent on loan to his first club, Cardiff City. Back in Wales, he finally began to accumulate the playing time required to accelerate his recovery. After a month in the Welsh capital, Arsenal insisted he return to London.
While Ramsey had been on the sidelines, Shawcross’ burgeoning reputation as a promising centre-back had continued to grow. The very same weekend that he was sent off for his challenge on Ramsey, Shawcross was handed his first call-up to the England squad by Fabio Capello. Speaking to the Mirror at the time, Stoke boss Tony Pulis said:
It will take some time for Ryan to get over what happened on Saturday but it shouldn't detract from the fact that he has made remarkable progress.
He fully deserves his call-up and we believe he is worthy of this chance to represent his country.
Hopefully he can put himself in contention for a place in the England squad for the World Cup Finals.
After the Ramsey incident, Stoke stoutly defended their player. The very next summer, he was appointed club captain—a role he retains to this day.
With an England call-up and the Stoke captaincy to his name, it looked as if Shawcross’ career was on the rise. Some Manchester United fans even wondered if they could see him back at Old Trafford in the not-too-distant future.
United would play a crucial role in the story of Aaron Ramsey, too. When he joined Arsenal, he rejected the advances of Sir Alex Ferguson and fittingly it was against United that Ramsey scored his first goal since returning from the leg-break. He grabbed the winning strike in a 1-0 Premier League victory on 1 May 2011. Afterwards, the emotional Welshman told Sky Sports:
Scoring the goal was a special moment for me. This was worth the wait and so many people have helped me through the tough time I had.
Hopefully this will give them the same satisfaction as it does me. After these remaining games, hopefully I can come back and have a good pre-season, and then go again next year.
International success was beckoning, too. In March 2011, Ramsey was named captain of Wales for their high-profile match with England. Although Ramsey subsequently lost the armband to Ashley Williams, he has since become the vice-captain and a talisman for his nation.
It’s not all been plain sailing. Ramsey’s form and fitness have both suffered setbacks. During the 2011-12 season, he was frequently played out of position and struggled to produce his best.
Everything changed halfway through the 2012-13 season, when Arsene Wenger deployed Ramsey alongside Mikel Arteta at the base of midfield. Returned to his preferred central role, Ramsey was outstanding, and he helped Arsenal secure a top-four place.
When the 2013-14 season kicked off, Ramsey’s form went into overdrive. The goals that Wenger had long insisted would eventually characterise his game have come to fruition. It could be argued that Ramsey’s absence through injury is one of the key factors that has seen the Gunners cede top spot to Chelsea.
Shawcross’ career, however, seems to have reached a plateau. The transfer links to big clubs have become increasingly infrequent. He did eventually make his England debut against Sweden in November 2012, but he looked out of his depth. He has not played at international level since.
Both players remain hugely important figures at their respective clubs, and that’s reflected in their recent contract extensions. Ramsey signed a new long-term deal in December 2012. Just one month later, Stoke secured a similar contract for Shawcross. When the deal was announced, Tony Pulis told the Stoke Sentinel of his belief that Shawcross could become a legend at the club.
That may be, but Ramsey could become a legend in British football. There seems little doubt that, in spite of what happened in 2010, Ramsey will be the man to have the more celebrated career.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.