Mid Wales to the best in Europe – How Eric Ramsay’s decision to put coaching over playing paid off and led him to Chelsea

“It’s a really difficult industry to thrive in – particularly as a non ex-professional player – and I sincerely hope that I can continue to do what I love doing for many years to come.”

As a young footballer Eric Ramsay had the opportunity to go and play the game professionally.

Instead, at an early age, Ramsay swapped his ability with the ball for the skills he was beginning to hone on the training ground and on the other side of the white line.

Now, still yet to reach 30, the man who spent his early years growing up playing the game he loved on the Mid Wales border, is coaching arguably the countries top talents at one of Europe’s top academies.

Ramsay is now the Under 23s assistant manager at Chelsea, a role he has been in for the last year.

On the academy staff list at the Blues his name is mentioned in the same breath as former Chelsea and Sheffield United full back Jon Harley, and title winner Claude Makelele.

As the young coach explains, it has been a difficult transition and journey in an industry where he has been surrounded by ex professionals.

He explained: “I do feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had in what has been a relatively short coaching career so far and proud of the fact that I’ve been able to take them.

“It’s a really difficult industry to thrive in – particularly as a non ex-professional player- and I sincerely hope that I can continue to do what I love doing for many years to come.”

In his younger days, Ramsay was involved with a number of professional clubs at academy level, and featured at youth level for The New Saints.

It was here, when other players were looking at professional playing careers, that Ramsay was looking at the bigger picture.

As he admits, he looked beyond the dream of playing and realised he probably didn’t have what it takes to make it to the level he would have liked to on the pitch.

“I was involved with a few professional clubs as an Academy player and then, whilst a player in the youth team at TNS, my local club in the Welsh Premier League, I started to take coaching more seriously.

“I spent a year with the first team at TNS and on loan to another Welsh Premier League side at that time, Welshpool Town and worked as an Academy Coach.

“I had the option to stay at TNS as a full-time player but I had my heart set on going to University in Loughborough and continuing to combine playing at a reasonable level, coaching and studying.

“I was well-aware that I was never going to reach the level that I might have liked to have done as a player and I felt like I’d found my passion with coaching and player development.”

Ramsay during his Swansea days (back)

Aside from the full men’s game, Ramsay dabbled with the art of futsal and represented his country on a number of occasions.

He took the role of first team coach at the university, taking over the position from current Manchester United first team coach Kieran McKenna.

By the time his university days came to a close, he was already stepping into the world of professional football and the big call to go for coaching over playing had paid off.

“I left Loughborough and, fortunately, went straight into a full-time coaching role at Swansea City.

“Here I worked with the U18s and U23s over three-and-a-half years during the club’s high-point in recent history. The first team were more than competitive in the Premier League and the Academy was making the transition to Category One.

“My role as coach with the then U21s came at a point when I had only just turned twenty-three and I had to learn quickly. We worked closely alongside the first team and it was my first experience of working with professional players day-in-day-out.

“It was a phenomenal first role in coaching and it’s great to see so many of the Academy players from that era playing important roles for Swansea, Wales and other clubs at the moment.”

Then came an opportunity that the young coach couldn’t turn down.

Shrewsbury Town, the club he supported as a boy, were in need of an under 18s manager and with Ramsay’s experience, he jumped at the chance.

And after just a short spell with the Salopians, he was thrust into the managerial limelight while still in his mid 20s, an environment in which Ramsay managed to thrive.

“A little while down the line, unexpectedly, Danny Coyne and I were put in charge of the first team.

“It was my first exposure to an environment where points – and league status – were all important and, fortunately, things went our way.

“I loved the intensity and pressure of working in the build-up to games at at first team level and that continued into my time working alongside Sam Ricketts for the remainder of that season.”

During his time with Shrewsbury Town

Now just a handful of years after leaving sleepy Mid Wales for university and then professional football, Ramsay was set to move to the big stage.

He was appointed to a role within the Chelsea academy, and over the past year or so has worked with some of Europe’s best young talents.

“When the opportunity arose to join Chelsea and work with the U23s, as much as I was loathed to leave Shrewsbury, it wasn’t one to turn down.

“The club has an exceptional player development system – arguably one of the best in the world – and is the most successful club at UEFA Youth Champions League level. I knew I’d have the chance to work with potentially world-class players, coach in a European competition and work alongside some top-level staff.

“Our side was unbeaten in the Premier League Two last year, we produced some standout performances against Ajax in the UEFA Youth League – a European giant in player production – and two of the group have made their mark in the Premier League. I’m sure all of the staff involved would look back on the season with real pride.”

Sometimes in top academies, coaches roles can sometimes be thankless tasks when it comes to getting the young crop into the first team fold.

With points in demand at first team level, managers may be less inclined to gamble on a youngster rather than an old head.

But as Ramsay has found out, it was the perfect time to make the move to the top level, with the chances young talents have been given in recent months.

“In hindsight, it was the perfect time to join the club because as the season has panned-out it has become clear that the integration between the first team and Academy is gold-standard. There is a lot of movement of players between the groups.

“The first team staff – many of whom have previously worked in the Academy – are real advocates of the club’s player development pathway and that has been in evidence with the crucial role Academy graduates have played at first team level.

“It’s a real motivating force to know that you are working every day to try and contribute to that pathway’s continued success and the strong connection between the Academy and first team is essential in that.”

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