Rambo Junior on a mission to bring back good old days
Teenage talent lines up to join legends as youngest to lift venerable trophy
With all that 1927 resonance reaching through the generations, Cardiff City's visit to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final today will inevitably be wrapped up in the past. But in the form of Aaron Ramsey, the future will be very much on display.
If Cardiff are to beat Barnsley, and so reach their first final since they renamed the English Cup 81 years ago, the 17-year-old Ramsey will have a shot at becoming the youngest player in history to win the FA Cup. The previous youngest was West Ham's Paul Allen, at 17 years and 256 days, when the Hammers beat Arsenal in the 1980 final.
Such an eventuality would mean yet another modern Cup record held by a Welshman, following on from Ian Rush's scoring feat of 49 goals and the winning-medal collection of four held by, among others, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs.
Far from being embarrassed among such company, everybody at Ninian Park agrees that it would be merely apt for the player they nicknamed "Rambo" to join such countrymen. For a few years, the whisper has filtered through that a very special midfielder is about to emerge from the academy.
Emerge he has, and withsuch a stir that in an earlier round of the Cup Alan Shearer was heard talking up the midfielder's potential and Mark Lawrenson admitted that he was rendered speechless – almost – in his admiration.
As Cardiff's run gained momentum and as Ramsey's influence became more and more pronounced, stories inevitably appeared of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal being in the race for his signature and of Sir Alex Ferguson sounding out the Cardiff manager, Dave Jones. None of this would have surprised Trevor Sinclair, the veteran wide-man who is in competition with the player 18 years his junior for a place in this afternoon's line-up, one iota.
At the start of the season, Sinclair told The Independent on Sunday about the startling talent he had witnessed on the training field. "I don't want to big him up too much, because I think that can be dangerous," said the former England international. "But let's say just he's got everything. You know, I've played with some great players in my time and have seen some brilliant kids come through. But none of them were any better than this boy."
The boy himself is rathershy; an understandable trait in someone so young, if not in someone so blessed. When he talks to the press it is with his head down, mouth away from microphone.
His answers, however, do reveal a quiet confidence that may just persuade Jones to throw him in one of football's deepest ends. "I haven't really thought about it as any different to any other game, but one of my favourite footballing memories is actually of a Cup semi-final," said Ramsey. "I watched the Cup growing up, and the one that sticks out is the replay in 1999 when Giggs scored that brilliant goal. I was eight at the time and Giggs was my hero."
Indeed, the Caerphilly product is rather similar to Giggs, in both deed and action. "To be honest, I don't take too much notice about what's said of me in the papers or on the TV," said Ramsey. "My friends and familysupport me and my parents brought me up to be not the sort of person to go around boasting or saying this and that. Of course it's nice to hear about people like Alan Shearer saying good things about me. But I just get on with what I do."
Today that might involve him picking through the Barnsley midfield, just as he did against Middlesbrough in the quarter-final. If called upon he is adamant that the glaring limelight will not be a problem.
"I'm not the nervous type. It is just a game I want to do well in," he said. "I don't tend to get nervous before any games – although I was a bit nervous when the youth team had tosing in front of the first teamat Christmas.
"People have talked about how I did against Boro but the way I see it, it was a great team performance. I've only had about 10 or so games at first-team level but I think I've adapted OK. Although it was strange seeing players like Trevor Sinclair and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the same dressing room as me when I was still in youth football at the start of the season." Life is about to get a little stranger still. For Rambo and for Cardiff.
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