Old boy Nicholas tips Ramsey to be Arsenal's next Welsh captain

Aaron Ramsey, on the verge of his full Wales debut, is being tipped to eventually captain his country by the last Gunner to lead the team. The Caerphilly-born attacker could earn his first cap for the seniors on Saturday when John Toshack s side take on A

Aaron Ramsey, on the verge of his full Wales debut, is being tipped to eventually captain his country by the last Gunner to lead the team.

The Caerphilly-born attacker could earn his first cap for the seniors on Saturday when John Toshack's side take on Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff, or four days later in Russia.

If and when he gets the call, Peter Nicholas - a midfield ball-winner in Terry Neill's Arsenal side of the early 1980s - says it will be the first of many.

"I have watched the lad since he was 12 at Cardiff City's Academy and from the first moment I clapped eyes on him I knew he was head and shoulders above any other kid," Nicholas, now manager of his hometown club AFC Llanelli, told Ham&High Series Sport.

"He can captain Wales, no question. He's a big candidate, no question.

"He has had a very good grounding at Cardiff, they looked after him well and taught him the right habits from an early age.

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"Technique, ability, attitude, physique - he's been miles ahead from the off.

"Everyone who saw the lad knew he was special. I am not in the slightest bit surprised that England's biggest clubs were chasing him - and I am just happy he ended up at the Arsenal."

Ramsey, who is not 18 until Boxing Day, was criticised in some quarters for leaving the Bluebirds too early but Nicholas, who won 73 caps for his country and was given the skipper's armband after moving from Crystal Palace to Arsenal in March 1981 for £400,000, believes he was right to move to north London.

"I think that originally Cardiff did want him to come back on loan immediately, but Arsenal didn't go with that," he said.

"That's fair enough, really. He has been so good and impressed at the Arsenal in such a short space of time Arsene Wenger has found it hard to ignore him.

"I honestly believe, even despite his young age and lack of experience, he will be challenging for a place in the first team starting line-up very soon. By very soon I mean this season. To do that at a club like Arsenal proves he's special. And clubs like Arsenal only pick special players."

History shows some of Arsenal's finest players have come from across the River Severn. Take legendary 1950s goalkeeper Jack Kelsey, the only Welsh goalkeeper to play in the World Cup, or Bob John, the club's leading pre-war appearance holder. In fact, the club's first ever international was Welsh - the magnificently-named Caesar Llewellyn Jenkyns, back in 1896.

But since Nicholas the only Welshman of note to appear in the red and white of Arsenal is firebrand striker John Harton in the mid-1990s.

Nicholas says it is merely reflects the dire situation Welsh football has been in in recent years. "I've been disappointed not to see more Welsh players at Arsenal but it is hardly surprising," says Nicholas, who later played for Luton Town, Aberdeen, Chelsea and Watford before retiring in 1993. "There haven't been too many at any major English clubs in the past few seasons.

"Ryan Giggs is a clear exception and Aaron is being mentioned in the same breath. But he isn't the new Ryan Giggs as everyone calls him here, he is the first Aaron Ramsey, and he has all the talent needed to make a name for himself.

"The fact of the matter is Welsh football hasn't been producing enough good young players.

"Giggs can look at all of his medals for Manchester United but he still hasn't played in a World Cup or European Championship and that is a crying shame.

"But things are getting better - the Under-21s are on the verge of qualifying for big tournaments. Tottenham have Gareth Bale who is exceptional too, and the talent is coming through. It's been 50 years since Wales was at a World Cup, but I believe the likes of Aaron and Gareth will play on the biggest stage with their country. Well, I hope to God they do, anyway."

As for Nicholas, he is still remembered fondly by fans for his combative style in the Gunners' engine room. Tipped for a long career at Highbury after impressing initially after arriving from Selhurst Park after just two seasons. Nicholas moved back to Palace in 1983 with Arsenal making a big loss.

"It was a transitional period for the club," explained Nicholas, 49 in November. "I had two fantastic years at the best club in England.

"All ex-Gunners say it, but the club treats you so well and you don't realise how good the Arsenal is until you leave.

"I went there after they'd got to three successive cup finals. Chippy [Liam Brady] had left the previous summer and within a couple of months Frank Stapleton had gone to Manchester United.

"I was young and loved being at the club. I had absolutely no major problems but maybe Terry [Neill] and I did not always see eye to eye.

"He was bringing in other players and maybe I should have been a little more patient, but, as I said, I was young.

"For me, though, I remain an Arsenal man. It's the best club I ever played for, I was privileged to represent the Gunners.

"I still get invited to lots of events by the club and keep in touch with a lot of the lads from that time. One of the coaches, Terry Burton, is at Cardiff now, and I see him a lot.

"I also see Kenny Sansom on the circuit a fair bit - he's put on a few more pounds than even I have though," he said. "But the best thing about playing for Arsenal is that it makes you feel so special. And that is how Aaron will be feeling when he wears the red and white - very special."

Alex Fynn and Kevin Whitcher will be signing copies of their new book, Arsenal - The Making of a Modern Superclub, at Borders, Brent Cross Shopping Park, Tilling Road on Saturday at 12noon.