Such is the cult hero status that Aaron Ramsdale was swiftly imbued with at Arsenal that it can be hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the tidal wave of negativity that greeted his arrival in north London during the summer he arrived before the 2021-22 season.
Already part of the England setup, with two years of Premier League experience to his name, his CV was deemed insufficient by pundits who pointed to his back to back relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United, ignoring the fact that he had been named player of the season by supporters of both clubs.
The debate over his worth was nothing compared to the string of abusive messages sent to him on social media, where so called supporters vowed to make his time at one of England’s biggest clubs into a waking nightmare. It did not take long for Ramsdale to make those trolls look even more foolish. The 24 year old would overhaul Bernd Leno to become Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper within a few games and went on to make a string of crucial saves as the Gunners climbed up the table.
His commitment and passion earned him the adoration of the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal’s travelling contingent but it has not been one he has been able to share in. Comments on his Instagram are switched off to those he does not follow, his Twitter effectively functions in broadcast mode with notifications only coming to him from those he follows. This perhaps serves as a useful reminder for those whose first response to a poor performance is to offer dog’s abuse on social media. Ramsdale won’t see it, and, if it does not come from Mikel Arteta or his coaching staff, he is not particularly interested in the critiques that come his way.
“At the very start it was difficult,” says Ramsdale, reflecting on what footballers would generally describe as one of the most invigorating moments in their career. “I had a lot of negativity around the signing, with idiots online saying don’t sign. Not necessarily death threats but threats saying ‘we know where you live’ and things like that, trying to scare me. Quite quickly I turned all that stuff off.
“It was safer for me, but also my family as well. My mum and dad are obviously on social media. They don’t really know what they are doing, but it’s quite easy for them to type in Ramsdale on Twitter to get to my page and end up on a page where there is a lot of negativity and abuse. Then they read it and get upset. So it did make me feel a lot safer.
“As much as I love the fans, they don’t really have an opinion on what we do on the pitch. The people I need to impress, like I said, are the manager, the coaching staff and ultimately my teammates. If I have their trust, then I’ll have the fans’ trust as well.”
Ramsdale’s early tribulations were recorded for posterity in Amazon’s forthcoming All or Nothing documentary on Arsenal, which he hopes gives supporters a chance to understand what is “one of the best jobs in the world, but one of the worst at the same time”. He and his teammates are at great pains to reflect on the relentless stress of life as a top footballer, a job where your entire emotional state can swing drastically on the basis of 90 minutes.
However, if anyone feels that stress more deeply than the Arsenal goalkeeper, it might be his father, Nick. The Ramsdale family follow their son home and away and were by his side as he secured a dream career move. Indeed, after speaking to his potential new signing, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta made a phone call to Ramsdale senior to find out more about the man he’d be entrusting with the goalkeeper gloves.
The contents of that call between Nick and Arteta have remained a secret even from his son — “if he made a fool of himself, he made a fool of himself” — but Ramsdale will soon be able to see for himself the nerves that jangled around his box at the Emirates Stadium when he made his Premier League debut against Norwich. Even 37 games into his Arsenal career, those fears have not abated and they are hardly eased by the insouciant approach of the young goalkeeper with the ball at his feet
“He hates it. Hates it,” says Ramsdale. “Especially now, he tells me week in week out to stop passing it into midfield because it gives him a heart attack. I think in previous years it was the other way round, my mum was probably the one struggling, with losing and relegation and things. I think that affected her more than him, he knew the type of person I was, stronger than my mum thought. Now it’s the other way, where I have a lot of responsibility on the ball and it gives him more of a heart attack than me mum, I believe he walks in and out of the box 24/7 throughout the game.
“I just say, ‘speak to Mikel.’ He has the boss’s number actually from when we were signing, so every now and then he says ‘I will’ and I just have to pull him and say ‘No … !’. Nah it’s just part and parcel, it’s probably only going to get worse for him the better we do, the more pressure games in the Europa League, hopefully get into the Champions League. You never know, I might play in a World Cup or Euros. So it’s something he’s got to deal with.”
It may well be that he has to do so very soon indeed. The World Cup is only a few months’ away and right now Ramsdale seems bound for a spot in Gareth Southgate’s squad. He even has backers to overhaul Jordan Pickford and become England’s No.1 in Qatar. Among those is Brendan Rodgers, who well knows the frustration of coming up against an in-form Ramsdale.
Early in his Arsenal career the goalkeeper made one of the saves of the season to deny James Maddison from a Leicester free kick. Several months later, he foiled the Foxes again with a brilliant block of a Harvey Barnes header, prompting Rodgers to label Ramsdale “the best English keeper at the moment.”
It took some time for news to filter through to the man himself. “If I had comments on it, it probably would have popped up on the timeline or something. It was probably two days after when one of the lads in the dressing room asked if I had seen what Brendan said about me.
“It is always great, from that week onwards you do feel 10 feet tall to have the respect of another manager but the thing for me is it wasn’t the England manager saying it. I still had to prove to him that hopefully that was the case and there is still a long way to go.”
A place in the squad seems guaranteed unless Ramsdale’s form falls off a cliff in the next few months, but he is taking nothing for granted. “I’m in and around it at the moment. Things can change very quickly, especially this season there is going to be Jordan [Pickford], myself, Sam Johnstone, Dean Henderson, Nick Pope.
“There are probably going to be five or six English goalkeepers trying to get on the plane. So, although I’m around at the moment, I need to keep myself there.”
If, as seems likely, Ramsdale is successful in his pursuit of a World Cup spot there may yet be more stressful days ahead for his father. At least this time there won’t be a television camera capturing his every moment of anxiety.