Analysis'His game has been modelled on Trent' - the rapid rise of Calvin Ramsay
Late last July, Aberdeen welcomed Swedish side BK Hacken to Pittodrie Stadium for the first leg of a Europa Conference League qualifier.
It was a pleasant summer evening, fans were back in the stadium for the first time since March 2020, new manager Stephen Glass was making his competitive debut, the starting XI featured a raft of new signings – including former Scotland captain Scott Brown – and the Dons were potentially on the verge of competing in the group stage of a European competition for the first time in 14 years.
On the list of things Aberdeen fans were excited about that night, all of that would have ranked higher than the fact an academy product had got the nod at right full-back.
But 17-year-old Calvin Ramsay was the best player on the pitch, dominating the right flank, terrorising the Swedes with his set-piece deliveries and assisting the first goal in a 5-1 win.
Less than a year later, the teenage Aberdonian can now be found posing with his hands on his hips in the header picture of Liverpool’s official Twitter account, exchanging emojis with Andy Robertson on Instagram and being described as ‘athletic, smart, confident and eager to learn’ by his new boss Jürgen Klopp, after becoming only the second Scotsman to sign for Liverpool’s first team in the last decade.
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He might even have replaced a certain Mr Harris as every Red’s favourite Scottish person named Calvin.
It is a rise to prominence that in some regards is every bit as remarkable as Robertson’s was, even if it unfolded over a much more condensed timeframe, and has been followed with pride and admiration by fellow Aberdonians such as Liam McLeod, BBC Scotland’s senior football commentator on TV and radio.
Outstanding as Ramsay was in his European debut, McLeod recalls a game played in much more rough and ready conditions, three months beforehand against third-tier opposition, as the one where Liverpool’s new No.22 offered up the first clear evidence of what he was capable of.
“It was the 63 minutes he played just a stone’s throw from Loch Lomond where we first saw him as a star in the making,” he explains. “That was his first start, away to Dumbarton in a Scottish Cup tie.
“He picked up an injury and was subbed just after an hour – but was still named Man of the Match. To achieve that feat at the age of 17 was a real coming-of-age tale, so it was at that point that the supporters began taking serious notice.
“His was a name you heard references to when he was coming through, but not everyone you are made aware of makes the kind of breakthrough that Calvin did. He was already winning Player of the Season accolades when he was in the U12 side at Aberdeen, and if you get the chance to seek out a video on social media of him displaying his skills as a 13-year-old then please do!
“It was clear early on that his coaches were very excited by what they were seeing, and indeed it was one of them, Paul Sheerin, who handed Calvin his debut against Dundee United not even 18 months ago when Paul was in caretaker charge of the first team. It's been an incredible rise.”
Calvin Ramsay: The first interview
Ramsay went from strength to strength in the weeks following his landmark display against Hacken. Aberdeen’s group-stage aspirations may have been ended by Qarabag in the play-off round, but the six qualifying games they played in total were a valuable proving ground for their livewire new right-back, who started all six and contributed four assists in the process.
Away to Icelandic outfit Breidablik, Ramsay set up two goals in the first 10 minutes with inch-perfect corners delivered from the right, one rolled along the ground and the other floated as if by remote control onto teammate Lewis Ferguson’s forehead.
For any Liverpool fans who’ve come across that footage in their research and felt they recognised something of Trent Alexander-Arnold in the intelligence and variety of those deliveries, it’s no coincidence.
“It must be surreal for Calvin right now, because Trent Alexander-Arnold is a big influence on him and the way he plays the game has been modelled on him,” reveals McLeod. “If you’re 17 years old and you come into a team and are immediately put on set-piece duties, then you must be good to elbow senior pros out of that equation.
“He is a serious weapon in that respect and that’s one of the reasons I’m confident he’ll do well at Liverpool.
“He stood out a mile in those European games, and whilst these were only qualifying ties, the experience of competitive continental football at first-team level was important – not every teenage footballer gets that sort of opportunity at such a young age.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he has the temperament and quality to take any first-team chances that come his way next season. From what those around him have been saying, this is someone with real self-belief, and given he has studied just about everything on Alexander-Arnold, it will already be on his mind that a window of opportunity may be closer than anyone thinks.”
Ramsay also made a flying start domestically, notching his first Scottish Premiership assist on the opening day of the season against Dundee United and adding three more by matchday 10.
Despite missing a significant chunk of the winter months through injury, the now 18-year-old ended his first full season as a pro with 33 appearances, one goal (a stunner on his weaker left foot) and nine assists, a newly-minted Scotland U21 international and the Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s Young Player of the Year.
All of this in one of the most challenging seasons in Aberdeen’s recent history, as the club that dominated Scottish football in the mid-1980s were reduced to a 10th-placed finish, parting ways with Glass – who Ramsay had enjoyed an excellent relationship with – back in February.
“He was a shining light in a dark tunnel for Aberdeen fans,” says McLeod. “Aberdeen finished in their lowest spot in almost two decades, while suffering early exits in both cup competitions; Calvin had only been in the first team for just over a year yet had three different managers in that time. He was their Man of the Match pretty much every game in the first half of the campaign, before sustaining that injury.
“Undoubtedly, he will be difficult to replace despite his relatively short spell in the team, but it was generally accepted that he was in ‘enjoy him while you can’ territory.”
McLeod hopes that Robertson and Ramsay’s stories can inspire other Scottish youngsters to hit similar heights; and if it does we just might see a colony of Scottish stalwarts at the heart of the Liverpool dressing room again, evoking memories of the Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish eras.
“Clubs in Scotland outside Celtic and Rangers aren’t usually involved in this type of transfer, I could probably count on one hand the amount of times it’s happened,” Liam concludes. “But young Scottish players don’t have to look far for inspiration now.
“I interviewed Andy Robertson after his Scotland debut in Poland, which came exactly 12 months after he’d turned out for Queen’s Park in a Third Division match in the little Moray town of Elgin.
“I know Calvin’s old school have been very excited and Tweeting about what a role model he is to any youngster who plays the game, whilst Andy Robertson’s old school near Glasgow has a Champions League and Premier League winner amongst its alumni. These are tales of pride and inspiration.”