Aaron Ramsey said Leicester’s City’s Premier League title success has encouraged him to believe that “anything can happen” at Euro 2016, and the Arsenal midfielder revealed his hopes of springing a surprise in France have been boosted further by Arsène Wenger’s assertion that Wales will be a dangerous team.
Ramsey explained how the Arsenal manager told him before he left for France that Wales have the potential to be awkward opponents in a tournament where Chris Coleman and his players want to “prove a point” and progress to the knockout stage at the very least.
It is a welcome change for Ramsey, who is usually on a sun lounger when his Arsenal team-mates are taking part in a major tournament. “Normally I’m on holiday now,” Ramsey said, smiling. “When the qualification campaign started and we got those couple of wins early on I kept winding the Arsenal boys up, saying: ‘I’ll see you in France’. The way things were developing it was looking promising. To finally achieve it was great.
“To go in [to Arsenal] knowing I would actually be playing in the finals - I can share that experience now with some of the players who’ve done it. The Arsenal players were pleased and the manager was as well. He said we could be pretty dangerous, so hopefully that proves to be right – he’s a wise man.”
Speaking before the opening group game against Slovakia in Bordeaux on Saturday, Ramsey also paid tribute to Gary Speed for the foundations he laid following his appointment in 2010, as well as Coleman for the job he did to galvanise a group of players who “looked lost” and devastated following the death of their former manager in November 2011.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “We’ve come through a lot together. Gary put a lot of this in place. He got us all believing we could achieve something special. Then obviously what happened, happened and I think after that, naturally, the whole squad was hit. We were a bit lost.
“I think Chris has done an unbelievable job after that. It’s not an easy thing to have come in in those circumstances. The first couple of games were hard, players looked lost, not knowing what to do and it affected us but he has done really well to get this group back on track, back believing we could do something. And we’ve done it, but we want more.”
Wales are 80-1 to win Euro 2016, which compares quite favourably to Leicester’s 5,000-1 odds to be crowned Premier League champions before a ball had been kicked last summer. “I think there’s been stranger things happen [than Wales winning the tournament],” Ramsey said. “You saw the Leicester odds. Anything can happen.”
With Wales it feels as though so much depends on how Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive footballer, and Ramsey, the other standout name in their squad, perform in France. “I take that kind of responsibility and Gareth will as well, that’s just part of it,” Ramsey said. “It’s the whole team, though. We work our socks off for each other. We give ourselves the best chance of going on and then we have players who can create, finish off moves and put the ball in the back of the net.”
Ramsey plays in a more advanced role for Wales than he does for Arsenal, with Coleman deploying him alongside Bale as one of two No10s, and it is a position he said he relishes. “It gets me higher up the pitch where I like to be in and in those areas where I can be dangerous and hurt teams, and having Gareth in the No10 – it’s nice to be able to link up with him. It suits me better.”
With rugby still perceived to be the No1 sport in Wales, Ramsey hopes the people back home will get behind the football team in France in the same way they do during the Six Nations.
“I know what it’s like with other sports in the country, things like the Six Nations, when the whole nation is there for you,” Ramsey said. “I wouldn’t say I was jealous of rugby, but I wanted to experience that same buzz they get from the block where that’s all people are talking about and the buzz it brings.
“One of my big targets personally was to get us in the finals, to help this team get that. Now we’re there it’s going to be some atmosphere back home and over there and something all of us will remember for ever.”