After 11 years and three FA Cup triumphs at Arsenal, Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey has taken on a new challenge this season: trying to win the Champions League alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.
Ramsey left north London for Turin in the summer on a deal worth more than £400,000 per week after a contract offer was taken off the table by the Gunners amid what the player calls «a lot of confusion».
As it turned out, the unexpected chain of events has worked out well. Instead of helping Arsenal attempt to recapture past glories under manager Unai Emery, Ramsey is carving out a niche for himself at one of Europe’s most famous, most successful and most ambitious clubs.
His debut was delayed by a hamstring injury – but he has quickly made up for lost time.
Ramsey scored his first goal against Verona on 21 September, has started three successive league games and received an enthusiastic welcome from the Juventus supporters in the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday, when he was introduced as a substitute in the 3-0 Champions League win against Bayer Leverkusen.
On Sunday, the 28-year-old is expected to start at the San Siro against Inter Milan, who are top of Serie A with a 100% record after five matches, giving them a two-point advantage over a Juventus side who have won the Italian title eight times in a row.
In his first major interview since moving to Turin with his wife Colleen and their three young children, Ramsey spoke exclusively to the BBC.
He outlined the challenge of extending Juventus’ domestic dominance, the importance of learning Italian and why Ronaldo is just a normal bloke.
This time 12 months ago, it seemed you would be signing a new contract at Arsenal. Then it was taken away. Was it explained why?
Yes. It was in the end. There was a lot of confusion and a lot of things were up in the air. The decision was made and that was the situation, so I had to look at other options. Arsenal are going through a transitional period at the moment. They have many great players and a lot of talent coming through. They are definitely going in the right direction – but my situation now is at Juventus. I have an unbelievable opportunity at a massive club. I just want to be part of this now. Hopefully I can help my team-mates and my club achieve some great things on the big stage.
What was it like meeting Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time?
He was just like everybody else, really welcoming. Of course, he is one of the greatest to play the game but he is just a normal man. He breaks the ice straight away and makes you feel like you are talking to anybody else. There is a family feeling about the whole club. Everybody is in it to achieve one thing: to win football matches and trophies. Everybody is driven and very focused on what they need to be doing.
You said when you went to Arsenal from Cardiff in 2008 that you were daunted? Was it the same feeling walking into a dressing room containing some of the greatest players ever, like Ronaldo and Gianluigi Buffon?
It was a bit different. I was 17 then and had just come on to the scene so when I went into that Arsenal dressing room it was a daunting experience. Now I have to prove myself to my new team-mates, new staff and new fans. But I have been playing for a long time. I know what I am capable of doing. It is just of question of showing it.
A hamstring injury caused you to miss your farewell at Arsenal and pre-season at Juventus. That must have been frustrating?
Of course. I really wanted to finish off with Arsenal and play in the Europa League final. It wasn’t meant to be.
My next concern was how long it was going to be and how much of the pre-season I was going to get. It was very frustrating. I wanted to hit the ground running.
But the medical staff here have been brilliant and helped me through. I am feeling good at the moment. I was very proud to get my first goal and played in three matches last week. There is still a lot more to improve on but hopefully I can continue to improve and get stronger, get physically better and have a successful season.
Do you intend to learn Italian?
Yes, of course. It is massively important. All the team meetings are in Italian; the majority of the players speak Italian. But it’s not just for football reasons. When you go to a restaurant or fill up your car, some people don’t speak English. It’s important to speak their language and really commit to putting yourself into their culture and to understand it.
It might take me a bit of time – I have picked up a few swear words on the training ground – but I am learning and hopefully I will be able to speak it one day.
How have you found Juventus’ new coach Maurizio Sarri?
It has been great so far. There have been new ideas and new information which we are working hard to try to put into practice. At times it hasn’t worked as well as we would have liked, but in other parts it really has. We are slowly getting better in terms of what he wants to implement and understanding our roles and responsibilities more.
This club has been so good and so dominant for so long. We know other teams have improved and are trying to knock us off top spot. But this place is all about winning and that is what we are striving for.
High-profile players have recently started speaking out on a range of topics. Raheem Sterling and Romelu Lukaku have been vocal about racism. You have expressed your concern at the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa. Is this part of a wider trend?
We are role models and have a big audience we can appeal to, so there are many different subjects we can voice our opinions on. As long as it is done in a good and heartfelt way, we can have a positive impact on a lot of different topics.
I have always had a love for animals. To see how helpless they are in some situations, I can’t understand it. I try to do my bit to spread the word and have some sort of impact.
But it is not just that. There are other things I have been involved in as well, for example the climate. Some massive changes need to be taken to help this planet for future generations. There are certain things I want to get involved in. We are in a position where we can have some effect so, even if it is just one person, I want to help as much as I can.
It is rare for Juventus to go into a game behind someone in the league. That is the case on Sunday, when you will be facing an Inter Milan side containing Alexis Sanchez, someone you know very well…
Inter have improved this season. Antonio Conte has got them really organised and they have yet to drop any points. It is going to be difficult. They have some great players, including one I know very well from my time at Arsenal. We will have to be aware of him and the other players they have, and be really on top of our game to get the result we want.
The Champions League is really important for us but it is the league where week in, week out you are tested. Juventus have been dominant in the league for many years. Hopefully, in the long run, things will take care of themselves and we can be successful.