Gastón Ramirez 21 Midfielder Southampton
After a settling down period in Italy with Bologna, Gastón Ramirez really started to establish himself in the European game at the turn of last season. Not long after he arrived in Italy, the Serie A side spotted that it was in their best interests to make sure Gastón played as close to the opposition goal as possible. His splendid ability on the ball and eye for goal meant he couldn’t be allowed to stay stranded out on the left-side of midfield.
The Rossoblù profited from playing Ramirez behind the lone striker, Marco Di Vaio and alongside former West Ham attacking midfielder Alessandro Diamanti. Ramirez scored nine times in Serie A last season and none of them were poor goals. The back-heel against Fiorentina is probably the best of a very good collection.
Of course, Ramirez’s rise didn’t go unnoticed by the other sides in the Italian top flight. Throughout the 2011/12 season, no-one was fouled more in Serie A than the Uruguayan international – indicating that his excellent feet and sublime vision were marking him out as a player to worry about. His exquisite touch, lovely imagination in possession and glorious execution quickly identified Ramirez as a real joy of Serie A, especially outside of the big teams. Playing at slightly unfashionable Bologna made him even more of a delight for Italian football fans; especially as his rapid progress through the 2011/12 prepared many for a bidding war in the summer for his services.
Southampton, strangely, didn’t appear anywhere on a potential list of suitors. Nor does the south coast really seem like the right place for him to take the next step in his development. Over the close season, you couldn’t move for speculation about Ramirez’s future.
He was linked with every major club side in the dominant European leagues as well as a couple of dark horses of the Champions League. It appeared for all the world that his fine season in helping and inspiring Bologna to finish ninth in Serie A would be rewarded with a big money move to one of the giants of European football.
This time last time, anybody suggesting that Gastón Ramirez would end 2012 as Southampton’s record signing would have been labelled as ready for sectioning. As it was, newly-promoted Southampton signed up the Uruguayan international for something close to £16 million. Apparently it was all done under the noses of Europe’s biggest clubs.
That’s somewhat hard to believe. It’s difficult to fathom, no matter the difference in pay, how a season struggling for survival in the Premier League is more appealing than one that features at least a smidgen of continental competition. Perhaps the interest was never actually there or it waned in light of Ramirez’s struggles at international level.
Ramirez’s time with the Uruguay national team squad, and at the Olympics with the under-23s, are the only blots in a pretty good year. The fact that he is currently getting game time in a front line that already boasts Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and/or Abel Hernández should be enough for now. Eventually the time will come when the expectation will be placed on Gastón to ensure the tiny nation consistently overshoots their modest expectations; but that is not now.
Anyway; back to Ramirez and the south coast. He will, as you’d expect, need time to settle. The fact that it is November and he is still struggling may be a worry for Southampton’s chances of remaining in England’s top flight. He’s been used predominantly so far as a wide midfielder in Nigel Adkins’ side. Adkins has elected to play two front men in recent games with Ramirez and Adam Lallana supplying chances from wide. Ramirez lacks the pace to be a traditional winger and that may see him struggle even more.
It also means you count on one hand the number of times he has been seen him beating the full-back and whipping in a delivery from near the by-line. He isn’t that sort of player. His ability is in fact deserving of a much bigger role in the side and one not too dissimilar to how he played at Bologna. He should be playing just off Rickie Lambert, buzzing around him and bringing the rest of a reasonably attacking midfield into play. He hasn’t been given that chance yet; though it may take some adventurous thinking by Adkins for the reshuffle to happen.
His being shunted out wide won’t help him and it won’t help Southampton. Ramirez doesn’t and won’t want to play like a standard winger in the Premier League. Nor can be relied upon to track back and help out. Right-back Nathaniel Clyne has looked rather exposed on too many occasions as Southampton have opened up the season by conceding more goals than almost every other Premier League side before them.
Ramirez is a still a very raw player. He isn’t quite as complete as the £16 million price tag will imply and the expectation levels on his shoulders at Southampton need to be properly managed. That’s assuming he is given a chance to establish himself and grow at St. Mary’s rather than being moved on at the next sign of a strange pay deal for his advisors.
“Far too raw to pin survival hopes on, the move to Southampton is a real acid test for an undoubtedly talented winger who could thrive in a central role similar to Alexis Sanchez at Udinese. Hopefully the expectation brought by such a transfer fee will not crush a highly talented prospect.” - Adam Digby (ESPN, Sports Illustrated)
“Disappointing performances at both full international level and at the Olympics haven't dampened his reputation, but a surprise move to Southampton could go either way. First team football and survival would mean good things for his development. Relegation, quite the opposite.” - Ed Malyon (The Mirror, The Guardian)
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