AARON RAMSEY was absolutely flying when Wales qualified for the Euros in November 2019.
Aaron Ramsey will be desperate to recapture his top form for Wales at the EurosCredit: Getty
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But, in those 20 months since, Ramsey’s career for club and country has stalled.
The midfield playmaker, named in the Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament after Wales’ unexpected run to the semi-finals under Chris Coleman, has struggled to recapture that form and shake off the constant threat of injuries.
Since that golden summer in France, Rambo has played in just 19 of Wales’ 44 games as a lack of consistency in form and fitness has let him down.
And his start in Saturday’s goalless friendly bore draw with Albania was just a second start for his country since qualification was secured to tee up only a third finals appearance in Welsh history.
The statistics of Ramsey’s common absences has brought immense frustration and disappointment for a small nation, who have relied on the 30-year-old and Gareth Bale over the last decade.
In fact, a section of fans have even questioned his commitment to playing for his country.
Ramsey was on the plane that left Cardiff for Baku on Monday and his availability for Group A games with Switzerland on Saturday followed by Turkey and Italy is a hot topic.
His quality is undoubted but his fragility remains.
Now the burning question is can one of Wales’ best players survive the intensity of three games in eight days when the tournament kicks off?
Ramsey said: “It’s been a frustrating couple of years to try and get any consistency going. Different environments, different methods and things like that.
“It’s not something I’ve been used to because I was at one club for a very long time and I think adapting to that took a lot longer.
“I’ve had to change a few things but now I feel like I’m in a good place.
“I’ve definitely worked hard over the last few months to get my body back into a good place.
“I’m a proud Welshman who wants to play for Wales and help my team as much as I can.
“For me to have missed a few games over the last few years has been very frustrating and difficult for me.
“Hopefully now that’s behind me and I can look forward to all these games in the European Championships.”
Ramsey and the Welsh squad jetted off to Baku on Monday for the tournamentCredit: Instagram / @aaronramsey
Ramsey is typically optimistic but his fitness concerns will linger on heading into the finals.
Even against Albania, the Welsh nation winced as he collided with Ardian Ismajli at the start of the second half and the relief was palpable when boss Robert Page delivered the post-match medical update of, ‘It was just a kick on the shin.’
Ramsey has managed 92 minutes across two pre-Euro friendlies but it is clear he will need to be managed at the finals.
This week, boss Page, standing in for absent manager Ryan Giggs for the finals, faces a selection headache on Ramsey.
Page has spoken openly in the build-up that there is a nagging fear he could break down if he is pushed too hard, too soon.
So Page needs to work out what Ramsey’s best impact against the Swiss will be.
Does Ramsey, one of eight survivors from Euro 2016, start in the hope he can dictate the game like he did in France five summers ago against Slovakia, Russia and Belgium?
Does he gamble and use him in an unfamiliar false nine role which didn’t work against the Albanians at the weekend?
The Dragons will be praying Ramsey is on the ball this summerCredit: Alamy
Or does Page ease Ramsey into the tournament with a softer approach and pray the 63-cap ace can provide a moment of magic off the bench to win three points as the sun goes down in Baku, the intensity drops and the game opens up in the final half an hour?
Whatever decision Page opts for, Wales will need a firing Ramsey, who was suspended from the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal, to progress into the knock-out stages as they bid to emulate Coleman’s Class of 2016.
Ramsey, who won’t be able to share rooms with close pal Chris Gunter due to Covid-19 bubble restrictions, added: “It’s a different set-up with a different environment. We’re all excited, not just me, a lot of the players who haven’t experienced this before. They’re really buzzing and we just can’t wait for the first whistle to go.
“It’s a very difficult group. But our target is to get out of the group so we’re going to have to be fully focussed, hit the ground running and it’s going to be essential for me.
“Obviously I haven’t played as much as I would have liked over the last few years but I definitely feel I’m one of the most experienced here now and the roles have changed for us to help along the younger players.
“From our experiences, talking to them, giving them advice, even though a lot of them already know how to perform at a high level. But just being able to talk about our experiences at Euro 2016 is only going to help us as a team.”
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