Aaron Ramsey and Joe Rodon: Wales stars move to France to prepare for World Cup

Aaron Ramsey (left), Joe Rodon (centre) and Gareth Bale (right)
Aaron Ramsey (left), Joe Rodon (centre) and Gareth Bale (right) have all moved clubs this summer as Wales prepare for a first World Cup for 64 years

You wait half a century for a Welshman to join a club in France’s top flight – and then two come along in one day.

Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey announced on Monday he had signed for Nice on a free transfer, just hours after his international team-mate Joe Rodon had joined fellow Ligue 1 side Rennes on loan from Tottenham.

Whereas the likes of Ramsey and Wales captain Gareth Bale have competed in Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga in recent seasons, not since Bryn Griffiths in the early 1960s has a Welshman played in France’s premier division.

Now Ramsey and Rodon will both be in Ligue 1, Wales will hope they will be able to play more regularly than they have done lately.

Each player’s lack of game-time means their futures have been the subject of continued speculation, with Ramsey’s long-awaited departure from Juventus coming last month and Rodon’s move to Rennes finally ending a frustrating spell on the fringes of Spurs’ squad.

More than ever, Wales need their players to be playing consistently as they prepare for a first World Cup since 1958 later this year.

The players certainly appear to have grasped that fact, with 14 Wales internationals changing clubs this summer. And as Ramsey and Rodon illustrate, these could be significant moves.

Nice a ‘really exciting’ move for Ramsey

Ramsey has described his move to Nice as a “new chapter” and, after a difficult three years with Juventus, it seems a fresh start is in order for the 31-year-old.

There had been high hopes when he joined from Arsenal as a free agent in 2019, with Juve paying the elegant playmaker a reported £400,000 a week.

Ramsey had scored 65 goals in 371 games for the Gunners and was a key figure in three FA Cup victories, scoring the winning goals in the 2013 and 2017 finals.

Yet despite securing a Serie A title and Coppa Italia in his first two seasons in Italy, Ramsey suffered injury issues and was limited to 70 appearances in two-and-a-half years.

He still looked short of his best after joining Rangers on loan for the second half of the 2021-22 campaign and, when Ramsey returned to Italy this summer from Scotland, his Juventus contract was terminated by mutual consent a year before it was due to expire .

Despite his tribulations in club football, Ramsey has remained influential for his country, scoring and creating goals at back-to-back European Championships and in important qualifying matches.

Now the former Cardiff City midfielder has found a new club, his national team manager Robert Page will hope this generational talent will be allowed to flourish at Nice.

Having finished fifth in Ligue 1 last season, Nice will play European football this term in the form of the Europa Conference League, which could prove to be another useful avenue in Ramsey’s search for minutes on the pitch.

“Ramsey’s joining a club that is that is very consciously trying to create an environment where the football is more attractive, where there is a closer communion between the team and the fans,” says French football expert Tom Williams.

“He’s also joining quite a young squad and I think the idea in bringing in someone like Ramsey is that, on top of all his qualities as a footballer, he brings a bit of experience, a bit of know-how.

“The expectation is that [Nice manager] Lucien Favre is going to ditch the 4-4-2 formation and counter-attacking football and go to a 4-3-3 and more possession. It’s going to be front-foot football.

“So I think the idea with Ramsey is that he’s going to slot into this very young, very energetic team, with the support of a couple of midfielders alongside him, and he will have the kind of freedom to get forwards, which is where he plays his best stuff.

“There’s a new sense of direction and an awful lot of positivity at Nice so, on paper, I think it looks like a really exciting move.”

Aaron Ramsay
Aaron Ramsey has scored 20 goals in 75 appearances for Wales

Rodon looks to rebuild in Rennes

Rodon appeared to have a bright future at Tottenham when the Premier League club signed the then 22-year-old from Swansea in 2020 on a five-year deal for an initial £11m plus add-ons.

However, the imposing centre-back only has 24 senior Spurs appearances to his name and, under manager Antonio Conte, it became increasingly clear his future lay elsewhere.

During June’s international window, Wales captain Bale urged his former club to give Rodon more playing time, while Page expressed his hope that the defender would be “playing week in, week out at domestic level” before the World Cup.

It looks like Page may now have his wish, with Rennes sporting director Florian Maurice glowing in his praise for the “real central defender” the French club have acquired on an initial season-long loan, with an option to buy.

Over the course of his 27 caps for Wales, Rodon has demonstrated he has the physical attributes, leadership qualities and ability to read a game required to excel at the highest level.

Still only 24 years old, he could be a mainstay of the Welsh defense for years to come and, with a Rennes side who finished fourth in Ligue 1 last season, Rodon will also have Europa League football to look forward to during his first campaign in France.

“I think Ligue 1 will suit him in that it’s a very physical league and I think he’ll relish that,” says Williams.

“Rennes are a really attacking team. Last season in Ligue 1 they were the second top scorers behind Paris Saint-Germain.

“Every time you watch them there’s this incredible fluidity to their attacking football, positional interchanges and one-touch passing, so it’s comparable to Ramsey in going to a place with a really positive dynamic.

“The reason Rennes have gone for Rodon is that they’ve lost Nayef Aguerd to West Ham, who was their senior centre-back.

“Rodon was asked in an interview by Rennes what sort of footballer he is and he was like, ‘Well, a modern footballer, I like to put my foot on the ball but I’m a little bit old-school’ and there was a little grin because we know he’s the sort of player who does like physical contact.I think he’ll get that in Ligue 1, so I think it will suit him.

“And as he has recently discovered, there are lots of connections between Wales and the rest of the Breton region as well.

“Rennes’ club anthem is sung to the tune of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau [Welsh national anthem] but with different words in the Breton language, so there are lots of cultural similarities.

“The weather is quite Welsh in Brittany. It’s not Provence – you’re not going to be sitting on your sun lounger on your days off, so I think that will probably feel quite familiar to him.

“The stadium itself is a very British-style stadium with four stands and really passionate support. Spurs played there last season and a lot of the Spurs players were really struck by the atmosphere.

“There are lots of reasons to think that it’s a good match for Rodon as well.”

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