Jacob Ramsey Exclusive: Aston Villa ace on how boxing helped him prepare for the Premier League
Jacob Ramsey might be making his name on the football pitch but it was the boxing ring which helped Villa’s newest homegrown star get ready to rumble in the Premier League.
Ramsey has emerged as one of the top flight’s brightest young talents, becoming a regular in Villa’s midfield this season and earning a maiden England under-21 call-up.
Yet had things turned out differently, his career might have been spent throwing punches instead of spraying passes.
Ramsey’s father Mark is a former boxer who won an ABA title and twice fought Ricky Hatton in a professional career spanning 66-bouts.
Trips to Small Heath ABC were an off-season tradition for Ramsey and his younger brothers, Aaron and Cole, both of whom are also on Villa’s books.
“Dad was always big on us staying fit and boxing is what he knows, so every summer he’d take us to the gym to train,” Ramsey explains.
“Everyone knows how tough it is. There is no better training for getting your body into shape and coming up through the academy it definitely helped me.
“I was a late developer. It wasn’t until I was 16 I really started to grow and before then I was small and slim. Boxing toughened me up and helped me make the step up each year at a time when a lot of the other players were bigger than me.”
Ramsey still uses the circuit and body building training he learned in the gym as part of his regime but admits, with a chuckle, he has given up sparring since turning professional at Villa.
Making it as a footballer at his boyhood club was always the primary aim and while there is an understandable buzz around the Villa’s continued big spending in the transfer market, Ramsey’s development and energetic performances have undoubtedly been among the campaign’s biggest positives.
While all but six of his 22 appearances last term were from the bench, this year he has already started 14 matches, including eight out of new boss Steven Gerrard’s first nine in charge. After Ramsey scored a goal of the season contender in last month’s win at Norwich, Gerrard remarked how the 20-year-old was further developed than himself at the same age.
It was quite the compliment but only a few minutes chatting with Ramsey are required to realise Villa’s head coach made the remark confident it would not cause any complacency. This is a young man with serious ambition who has his feet planted firmly on the ground.
“I think if you asked my family about me, one thing they’d all agree is I’m quite laid back,” says Ramsey. “I don’t get too high with the highs, or too low with the lows.
“Nobody’s perfect. There is always something you could have done better and I try to take each day as it comes.
“Obviously, hearing the gaffer say things like that puts a smile on your face. He is one of the all-time greats so comments like that give you confidence.
“I’ve loved every minute of this season but I need to keep impressing. I’ve worked hard to get in the team but once you’re in, you have to work even harder to stay in.”
It is an attitude borne from his upbringing both at home and at Villa, where he was given an initial taste of first-team football nearly three years ago when the club was still in the Championship.
“The biggest difference making the transition from the under-23s is consistency,” he explains. “You have to be on it every single day.
“When I first started training with the first-team we had some really experienced pros, the likes of James Chester, Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan. They wouldn’t let you slack. If they ever thought you were, they were straight on you.”
There is one particular moment during the 30-minute conversation which highlights Ramsey’s burning desire to succeed. When the subject of statistics is raised, Ramsey gives a brutally honest – many might say slightly harsh – assessment of his own performance.
“People talk about stats a lot nowadays and I guess if you looked at mine (two goals, no assists) you’d probably say they weren’t great,” he says.
“Do I worry about it? I wouldn’t say it is my biggest worry. I am still young and learning and at the moment my main goal is to stay in the team.
“But it is always in the back of my mind and I know if I want to be a really top player, especially in the position I play, goals and assists are important.”
After scoring at Norwich, Ramsey revealed how he studied clips of Gerrard’s playing career in order to improve his own game. New team-mate Philippe Coutinho is another he has watched extensively.
“There are always things you can pick up,” he explains. “I look at all the big midfielders in the Premier League. I watched the gaffer, Coutinho and Frank Lampard.
“Now I look at players like Kevin De Bruyne, James Maddison and Ilkay Gundogan. I watch clips of Jack Grealish too. You can always learn something.”
After Grealish’s departure last summer to Manchester City it is Ramsey, who grew up in Great Barr and joined Villa’s academy aged eight, who has assumed the mantle of local hero.
“When you’ve got your family in the stadium and friends scattered around in every stand, people you grew up with at school, it’s a great feeling,” he says. “Of course it means that bit more being a local lad. There’s a bit more pressure too.
“For me this season the big thing that has changed is confidence. Last season in certain games you could see I was lacking it and not really believing in myself.
“This season I feel a lot more confident. I’m starting to believe in myself and hopefully people are seeing that from the outside.
“The more games I play I am only going to get more confidence. It has taken a lot of games for me to get this far and now I want to add to it.”
Tonight Ramsey will be part of the Villa team looking to exact swift revenge on Manchester United following Monday’s FA Cup exit at Old Trafford.
During the whole interview – Ramsey’s first with a newspaper – the only time he seems genuinely knocked off balance is when he is told Villa’s last home Premier League win over the Red Devils occurred nearly six years before he was born – August 19, 1995, to be precise.
“Wow!” exclaims Ramsey, his eyes widening. “I really did not know that! To get that record taken down would be pretty good.
“I think we can take real belief and confidence into the game after Monday, even though we lost.
“If you look at the game we had the better chances.
“In the first half Ollie Watkins hit the bar. Emi Buendia created a couple of chances. I had a shot which just deflected wide. Then in the second half we had two goals disallowed.”
Ramsey was at the centre of the game’s big talking point when, after a lengthy VAR delay, he was adjudged to have blocked the run of Edinson Cavani from an offside position, resulting in Danny Ings’ equaliser being ruled out. It isn’t the first time Ramsey has been stung by the video technology after seeing his own strike in last month’s home win over Leicester chalked off in similarly controversial circumstances.
“I think now all players have the mindset of waiting for the referee and VAR to check it first,” says Ramsey.
“Even while you are celebrating you have that in the back of your mind. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t. It is frustrating but it is what it is.”
Villa head into tonight’s match looking to halt a run of three straight defeats but Ramsey believes the future is bright.
“If you look at our season you’d have to say it has been up and down,” he admits.
“But I think we are getting better. It’s like the gaffer said on Monday, we are nearly there. I’m confident it is only a matter of time before it all clicks.”