As adventures by Welshmen in Turin go, Aaron Ramsey has been more Ian Rush than John Charles.
Reports linking the 29-year-old with a swift return to the Premier League have been constant. The Daily Express claim Manchester United will attempt to leverage Juventus’ desire to re-sign Paul Pogba by offering him in exchange for Ramsey.
Pogba has been similarly unsuccessful in Old Trafford. Albeit he cost a world-record £89.3million and is now in his fourth season back at Manchester United. Save for a spell following José Mourinho’s sacking, we’re yet to see a consistent run of form from the Frenchman.
On the face of it, this is a deal which could solve two problems in one. But is it a sensible move for Manchester United?
The Pogba problem
Mourinho claimed Pogba could be “the heart of the club” for the next decade when he returned in 2016. But the pair’s relationship regularly seemed strained and the midfielder struggled to reproduce his best form.
His dominant displays for France at the 2018 FIFA World Cup served as a reminder of what Pogba can do. United fans have rarely witnessed those highs during his almost four-year stay in the North-West.
A parting of the ways seems inevitable, even if Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been diplomatic. “Well of course, I’d like to say that as soon as he gets fit, he’ll be good enough to play for the team. I’m sure Paul’s desperate to play for us again,” Solskjær said, when asked if Pogba would ‘categorically’ remain at the club in February.
Pogba has featured in only eight games across all competitions this term. In his absence, Solskjær has built his side around young players and big-money January signing Bruno Fernandes. It’s hard to see how Pogba fits into the Norwegian’s 3-4-1-2 shape.
All the signs are that time is running out for Pogba in his second spell at Manchester United.
How would Ramsey fit at United?
It’s arguable the Welshman would be a better fit in Solskjær’s new-look United side than in the 4-2-3-1 shape Juventus utilised earlier this season. The Welsh international isn’t a No.6, nor is he a No.10.
With January addition Fernandes slotted in behind the two forwards and three centre-halves, the midfield two have more licence to roam in a 3-4-1-2. That would suit Ramsey.
In his best years at Arsenal, Ramsey was a goalscoring midfielder without too much defensive responsibility. He struck 16 times in all competitions during 2013/14. He’s never exceeded that figure and has only twice hit double figures since. However, Ramsey spent much of that campaign in a 4-2-3-1 – either alongside Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini – ensuring he could get forward at will.
What would Ramsey bring?
Despite missing three months of the 2013/14 season, Ramsey won more tackles for Arsenal than anyone and finished with the second-most goals (16) and assists (8) of any Gunners player.
His manager at the time, Arsène Wenger, heaped praise on the former Cardiff City youngster, claiming he had it all. “I was a midfielder, and I would have loved to have had what he has,” Wenger said. “He can defend, he can attack, he can score goals. What more do you want?”
Ramsey was also Arsenal Player of the Month in August, September, October and November.
Interestingly, Ramsey has averaged more touches in the opposition’s penalty area in his season at Juventus (4.43 per 90) than in his last four campaigns at Arsenal. The closest he came was in his final year in North London, averaging 3.93.
He’s also taking more shots (2.32 vs. 1.93) and hitting the target with greater regularity (40.9 per cent vs. 38.7 per cent). Furthermore, Ramsey has averaged more take-ons per 90 in his first season with the Bianconeri (3.27) than in his final campaign with Arsenal (2.87). Again, with a higher ratio of success (54.8 per cent vs. 45.7 per cent).
Reading too much into this data is dangerous. We’re comparing different leagues, teams and seasons. But the numbers begin to paint a picture of the sort of player Manchester United might be getting.
But is it a good deal?
This is the (significantly more than) million-dollar question. For a start, Pogba is a more marketable individual than Ramsey. While his on-field performances haven’t sparkled, he is one of the biggest commercial assets in the Premier League. Ramsey simply doesn’t have the same pull.
Then there’s the matter of the two players’ ages. Ramsey will be 30 on Boxing Day this year while Pogba only turned 27 in mid-March. A potential return on United’s investment looks far greater with the enigmatic Frenchman on the books.
But then there’s the issue of on-field output. It’s hard to see an opening for Pogba in this new-look Manchester United side. Solskjær is unlikely to create a role just for United’s No.6. and Pogba has made it abundantly clear he’s already thinking about his next move. Agent Mino Raiola admitted as much last summer.
For the deal to be viable, United would need to get some cash as a kicker. Ramsey won’t come cheap – his pay reportedly soared to £400,000-per-week by signing for Juventus. However, his combination of goals, creativity, energy and power could make him the ideal replacement for Pogba.
United have been stung when signing a midfielder from Juventus before. History shouldn’t repeat itself this time.