Aaron Ramsey has defended his credentials to be the new Wales captain and spoke of his determination to prove that a lack of experience and quiet personality will be no barrier to his ability to lead his country.
The Arsenal midfielder, who at 20 years and 90 days will become the youngest ever Wales captain when he lines up against England at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, was a surprise choice to be named as Craig Bellamy's permanent successor.
Gary Speed's decision has prompted criticism in some quarters, including from Kevin Ratcliffe, the former Wales captain. Ratcliffe said that he "thought there were better options within the squad" and also questioned whether Ramsey had the right attributes to be a captain. "I know his qualities as a player, but is he a leader?" said Ratcliffe, who won 59 caps for Wales. "For me, at the moment, he is very immature, I think, to be a captain."
Ramsey, however, pointed to the experience he has gained from playing for Arsenal over the last three years as a reason to believe he is equipped to handle the role. He also suggested that he would inspire his team-mates with his ability on the pitch and hailed Cesc Fábregas, the Arsenal captain, as a "perfect example that you can just give players a lift by playing well" rather than bellowing orders.
"I don't think I am too young [to be captain], I think I have played about 50 appearances for one of the biggest clubs in the world," said Ramsey. "I know I am not a screamer and a shouter, and I won't change the way I am. I'm not one that is the life and soul of the party, but I do speak up when there is something to say. And hopefully I can lead by example with the way I play. Obviously some people will disagree with [me being captain], but the manager has made his decision and hopefully I can prove it correct."
Ramsey believes that he is a stronger person after coming back from the terrible injury he suffered at the Britannia Stadium 13 months ago, when he fractured his right tibia and fibula in a tackle with Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross. "This shows the highs and lows of football and how things can turn around," he said. "I broke my leg just over a year ago and it was a really low occasion for me – I had to be strong mentally to get through the injury. But now this is the best moment of my career so far. It's amazing how things can turn around."
The former Cardiff trainee will be part of a Wales team that Speed hopes can use the England game as platform towards his ultimate goal of reaching the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. "There's a chance to make history but if we do beat England we've got to make sure that's not our greatest achievement," said the Wales manager. "We want our greatest achievement to be qualifying."
Speed, who insisted "everything's fine" with Harry Redknapp after the Spurs manager claimed Gareth Bale picked up the hamstring injury that has ruled him out while away with Wales, will urge his players to seize the moment in a fixture they have not won since 1984. "When the players go out on that pitch they must make sure that they leave nothing on it when they come off as it is a great opportunity for them and a big occasion that might never happen again at home to England at the Millennium stadium," he said.
"They have to take it by the scruff of the neck. If we get a positive result hopefully it can reignite the sport, because if we are to be successful we will need the fans to fill the Millennium Stadium every home game.
"There have been occasions when we have played there in front of very few fans and that has been disheartening but hopefully this game can bring them back. I remember playing against Azerbaijan in front of 74,000 a few years ago and, with the greatest respect to Azerbaijan, it was our success, we were on a good run at the time, that drew the fans in."
"This is our first real squad, we only had one day before the last game. It's been a fine balance of preparing for the future and for this game. We have been putting things in place to make us successful in the future, and, at the same time, focusing on a massive game tomorrow. We are playing in a way we want to be playing for the World Cup in 2014, so the structure will remain the same and we won't change the way we play. We have four or five days of good training but we are not trying to fill their heads with too much, and hopefully we can put things in place to go well tomorrow and secondly stand us in good stead for the future."
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