Profiling the Aberdeen-produced right-back following his big move to Liverpool
Who is Calvin Ramsay?
Promising young footballers are often lazily labelled as raw. But after producing the dynamic Nathan Patterson and the versatile Aaron Hickey, the Scottish full-back factory has a product leaving its conveyor belt with an antithetical word on the docket – polished.
Still a teenager, Calvin Ramsay is already a remarkably well developed right back, especially given the multitudinous demands placed on his position in the modern game.
A breakthrough season for Aberdeen, after spending almost a decade on their books, has culminated in the local lad becoming the SPFL club’s record transfer sale.
His time at Pittodrie followed a short spell playing for Cove Boys Club in the south of the city and his potential was recognised soon after his arrival by the Dons – winning a trophy for exceptional creativity and technique among his peers at the end of a season playing for their under-12 age group. Initially a central midfielder and on occasion a winger, Ramsay was moved to right-back when facing Chelsea in an international academy tournament and grew the key attributes needed for the role throughout the subsequent years at youth level for both club and country.
The Scottish Football Association accepted Ramsay into Hazlehead Academy, their performance school in the Aberdeen area, and he went on to debut for Scotland under-16s shortly after his fifteenth birthday. Next, he became a starter for Scotland under-17s during the qualification process for EURO 2020, skipped the under-19 grouping entirely and then made the first of his appearances for Scotland under-21s in September 2021 – just one month after turning eighteen.
Ramsay had made his senior club debut for Aberdeen half a year earlier with an injury-time cameo in the league under the caretaker management of one of his youth coaches, and played his first full ninety minutes at adult level in a springtime Scottish Cup quarter-final tie soon after the arrival of new manager Stephen Glass.
Ramsay expected to be sent out on loan for the 2021/22 season but he started all six of Aberdeen’s Europa Conference League qualifiers during the summer months, delivered a man of the match performance in the opening fixture of the Scottish Premiership campaign, and became an integral part of the team – supplying seven assists across all competitions – until a hamstring injury in October paused his phenomenal start to senior football.
Returning to match action in December he quickly regained his spot in the side, and retained it even when Glass was replaced by Jim Goodwin as Aberdeen dropped into the bottom half of the table. He started another eleven games in the league, scored a first goal at adult level, made two more appearances for Scotland under-21s, played a total of almost thirty matches worth of minutes throughout the season.
He also provided the second most Expected Goals Assisted per 90 of any non-Old Firm player in Scotland’s top flight, won the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Young Player of the Year award and, finally, sealed that big move to Liverpool. Truly the breakthrough season of a polished prospect.
Calvin Ramsay's style of play
That polish is most immediately noticeable in Ramsay’s deft first touch. Right foot, left foot, knee or chest – his control is usually instantaneous. It’s no surprise, given the technique displayed when receiving possession, that he is good at evading pressure in tight areas, happy to have the ball even when doubled up on, is confident when facing opponents from a standing start and has the ability to bypass them on the inside or outside.
Ramsay has developed power and accuracy in both feet and actually makes a quarter of his passes with his left. He shows a standout knack of aiming and weighting his passes well when using either boot, even if first-timing a bouncing ball, and this extends to when he plays defensive clearances and, of course, attacking crosses.
Those crosses are what gave Aberdonians rare moments of joy during a difficult season and attracted a swarm of scouts to the north-east of Scotland. Liverpool’s new signing is skilled at getting the ball into the box in all types of circumstances, even possessing a heads-down wedge-like style which enables him to sneakily bisect pairs of blockers when all angles seem to be covered.
He can also switch back onto that left foot and hit an in-swinger with little loss of pace on the delivery. Among those who played approximately half or more of the available minutes in the 2021/22 Premiership season, Ramsay made the fifth-most key passes – many of them from crosses – per 90. Considering his age and the poor performance of his team, that’s a very creditable output.
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His most impactful crossing contribution came from dead balls, registering the second-highest xG Assisted per 90 from set-pieces in the league and providing four assists across all competitions from corners alone. Ramsay’s corners, especially his outswingers from the right flank, are generally taken in a quite unique, clipped manner which means that they have a strange combination of being both floaty and drilled.
This gifts his team-mates the time to enact blocking routines and measure runs while dissuading opposition keepers from attempts to claim the ball due to its lack of elevation. Execution of this distinctive technique does fail on occasion and Ramsay will need to vary and refine his approach as he encounters more capable goalies but it is a highly-valuable component of his skillset.
Certain physical attributes are prerequisites for elite full-backs in the current era. Liverpool colleague, and Scotland captain, Andy Robertson epitomises the benefit of in-game endurance, and Ramsay has attempted to develop his own stamina from an early age. His determination to do so preceded the pandemic lockdown trend of footballers competing with each other on Strava by being a regular at Parkrun in Aberdeen from the age of eleven and clocking sub-eighteen-minute times for the 5km course throughout the summer of 2017.
His father, formerly a striker at Scottish non-league level, encouraged Ramsay’s running and, in addition to the Saturday morning time-trials, some appearances at competitive middle-distance athletics events undoubtedly buffed the youngster’s corporeal capabilities. Although Ramsay’s top speed isn’t electrifying, he can maintain it over long sprints, even late in matches, and he has good acceleration which helps when making recoveries behind his own defensive line.
So… control, passing, crossing and running are all positives but how about some defensive fundamentals? A criticism levelled at Ramsay is that, at times, he could funnel a runner into a less threatening area or track an opponent more closely in order to avoid having to rely on that recovery speed too often.
However, his is a role which demands involvement in all phases of the play over the full length of the pitch and can necessitate split-second decisions; in part, these concerns are more indicative of the difficult job he does than a significant individual flaw and, otherwise, should improve with top level coaching and experience.
Ramsay’s aerial win percentage is quite low and some opposition teams have deliberately targeted his area of the pitch with high balls, but this is another potential physical worry which is a little misplaced. Many of the lost challenges in the air which negatively impact his statistics are ones he has chosen to opt out of at the last second as they seem unwinnable and he wisely wishes to prioritise positioning or pounce on the second ball. While he can sometimes mistime his leap if responsible for the near post zone at defensive corners, when he does connect head to ball his technique – as in all other facets of his game – is very good.
Calvin Ramsay was a regular at Parkrun in Aberdeen from the age of eleven and clocking sub-eighteen-minute times for the 5km course throughout the summer of 2017
The young Scot tends to defend well in one-v-one situations. He keeps an eye on the play around him while marking, backpedalling in order to maintain sight of the ball, and often cuts out passes just before they arrive. He mad 2.4 possession adjusted interceptions per 90 thanks to his quick reactions last season.
If his direct opponent does receive the ball Ramsay readjusts smartly in response to feints, keeps a focus on blocking crosses and avoids diving in needlessly but shows little hesitation, and plenty of aggression, if an errant touch does allow the chance to tackle.
The caveat to that generally reasonable situational awareness when marking is an occasional tendency to lose track of blindside runs towards the front post inside the penalty area. His focus and ball watching can also be an issue in the second phase of defensive set-pieces, particularly if he is temporarily stationed away from his familiar right back zone.
Forecasting Calvin Ramsay's future
Ramsay’s right-back role for Aberdeen was quite different to what will be expected of him at Liverpool, and it is testament to the English Premier League club’s recent ability to spot good fits for their positional requirements that they picked him out despite this.
Under Glass, the Dons tended to build play slowly and through the middle, whereas Goodwin’s tactics leaned towards direct balls from the back. The common denominator was an underutilisation of Ramsay as a ball progressor and a failure to really capitalise on his nascent capacity for playmaking.
At Liverpool he’ll aim to be understudy to Trent Alexander-Arnold and, as well as coping with the increased pressure and quality at this new level. He will need to adjust to a much higher degree of usage within games. The full-back position is key in build-up possession and playmaking for the Klopp’s side, partly evidenced by the fact that Alexander-Arnold makes twice as many passes per match for Liverpool as Ramsay did for Aberdeen.
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The top-tier coaching at Liverpool will support him in strengthening his similarities to his Scouse team-mate and also help to develop more of a tendency and ability to be a creative outlet for a ball-dominant elite side.
Ramsay profiles as a coachable, smart professional and should quickly pick up and benefit from role and club specific tuition on varying his positioning in possession, being more aggressive on the ball, making switches of play to the opposite flank, facilitating interplay with his winger and crossing from deeper areas within the halfspace.
It may be unrealistic to expect Ramsay to ultimately dislodge Alexander-Arnold and become Liverpool’s main right back but, as quadruples are chased and starters are rotated in said pursuits, he could quite quickly deputise in less vital matches.
Playing experience against leading athletes will be a tough test as he’s yet to face extreme speed nor strength but the tutelage of Jürgen Klopp’s staff, combined with the chance of game time at the highest level and his already polished fundamentals, mean that Calvin Ramsay is set-up to have a strong career and may end up being the very best of the current young Scottish full-back shipment.
Calvin Ramsay is an high endurance full-back with quality as a crosser, especially from set-pieces, control as a technician and upside as a defender. He is a full-back that fits in at the higher levels.
Calvin Ramsay’s principle weakness is his tendency to watch the ball in defensive situations. He can lose track of runners, especially when defending his own box. He is unproven against elite-level opponents as well.