AL WAKRAH (Doha): The sun hits its zenith early in these parts. And time seems to stand still, literally. It’s a wholesome three past in the afternoon in this district south of the capital city. It’s supposed to be early winter but the sun’s blazing away in uninterrupted glory, the giant clock on the Sports Complex gymnasium still shows nine past five.
Maybe it is harmless, wishful thinking for a more pleasant time before reality shakes you awake. Does this time warp somewhere reflect the enduring predicament of the team that’s chosen this as their base at the World Cup here?
As England trained in the sun, the idea of their failed trysts with the World Cup, the singular success of 1966, an umbilical connection, paradoxically despite the commercial success of their Premiership, all shone through the thin air.
Despite last edition’s semifinal presence, the promise of a host of youth championship victories, even the narrowly missed Euro title 18 months ago, at the hallowed Wembley no less, it is always their many disappointments that you instinctively identify England’s football team with.
Not sure then, what 24-year-old Aaron Ramsdale, No. 2 goalkeeper in Gareth Southgate’s squad, and not even born when England were narrowly edged out by West Germany in a famous World Cup semifnal (1990 Italy), makes of it all.
(England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale during the press conference in Doha - AFP Photo)
“If I was too emotionally in football, I would have struggled a bit,” he said at a media interaction on Friday.
Ramsdale was asked about expected disappointment of relegation with Sheffield, instead he chose to boot it upfield. He could well have been talking the remedy to the larger idea of disappointment of English football over the years.
As first-choice Arsenal goalkeeper, Ramsdale sits in a strange, you could say, unfamiliar position going into his first World Cup, this particular one being conducted midway through the league season in Europe.
Arsenal currently sit top of the Premiership – another first for many newbie football fans – and Ramsdale needs to switch off that feeling of success, or even summon it, perhaps to help England pick itself up. How much baggage does he carry, how much of it would he need to shed in this desert heat?
As he parried queries around disappointment, hope, lending support to club mate Bukayo Saka, who along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho missed penalties in last year’s Euro final, Ramsdale cheekily slipped in how his dad reacted to his inclusion in the squad for Qatar after being sat out of the Euros, providing an insight into how new generations could be free of the shackles of the past.
“Yeah, there were tears shed,” he said of his father, “Should I play, dad wouldn’t return home, maybe have a heart attack or something.”
Immediately realizing that the impetuousness of youth had said more than it should have been, without breaking his stride, he continued, “There won’t be any nails left, let’s put it that way.”
But like his country’s legacy at World Cups, the heat here persists. Could that be a factor this time?
“No,” he nodded it away.
“I knew it’s going to be harsh, so am not surprised. Obviously, I’ve been to Dubai on numerous occasions before, for football, or on holiday to know what’s it like. I think adapting to it quick will be the difficult thing. Adjusting to it would be crucial for it to be held at this time, as it’s normally going into Christmas, dark nights and dark mornings.”
Again, was the youngster in Ramsdale talking about Santa Claus or like most English fans, even seeing Christmas as a dreary season? Let Qatar provide the answers.