It’s been a while since Wales captain Aaron Ramsey arrived for an international window with such a content look.
He admitted securing a move back to his hometown club Cardiff City in the summer felt like a “weight off his shoulders”.
The 32-year-old made no secret of his desire to be back with his wife and children having lived apart when he was at Nice and before then in Glasgow with Rangers and Turin with Juventus.
Ramsey is very happy mentally and physically, he’s in good shape after starting five times this season for Cardiff.
That is all good news for Wales in a week where they play two matches but with only one really counting – the Euro 2024 qualifier against Latvia in Riga on Monday September 11.
Wales need a refreshed and rejuvenated Ramsey perhaps like never before. The captain needs to help solve the problems of June’s Euro qualifiers where they lost both games including a nightmare 4-2 home defeat to Armenia. It will have dented confidence and belief.
Ramsey, in his way, needs to reassure and inspire the rest of the squad during the week on and off the training pitch. Wales, for the best part of a decade now, haven’t been used to inexplicable and demoralising defeats.
Lockyer pulls out of Wales squad
Tom Lockyer has withdrawn from the Wales squad for their upcoming games against South Korea and Latvia with a thigh injury. The defender didn’t play any part in Luton’s defeat to West Ham last Friday.
On the pitch, Ramsey needs to set the tone and rhythm by which Wales must play in order to win in Latvia. It is a must-win.
By their own admission, Wales are in transition following the retirements of Gareth Bale and Joe Allen among others.
Ramsey is the beacon and the standard to which Wales need to reach. He knows for sure that what he does on the pitch will be more closely monitored than before.
Get it right and the youngsters, chief among them Tottenham’s Deadline Day signing Brennan Johnson, will have an experienced figure to find and follow.
Ramsey can and needs to help his team-mates calm their nerves, believe in the plans of the coaches and show drive, determination and stubborn belief to know they can overcome and succeed during difficult moments.
He is the player, the captain, the leader who has a stocked in-tray of tasks to fulfil over the next week.
Being the captain of an experienced, winning team isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a simpler task compared with the one facing Ramsey.
Ramsey: Johnson’s potential is ‘quite scary’
Ramsey has described Brennan Johnson’s potential as “scary” but admits he was unhappy to see his Wales team-mate join Tottenham on transfer deadline day.
Ramsey spent 11 years in north London at Arsenal where he made 370 nearly appearances and twice scored FA Cup final-winning goals for the Gunners.
The 32-year-old midfielder left Arsenal in 2019 and had spells at Juventus and Nice before rejoining his first club Cardiff this summer.
But having linked up with Wales for their crunch Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia, Ramsey showed his Arsenal loyalties run deep when he said of forward Johnson’s £47.5million move from Nottingham Forest on Friday: “I wish it weren’t to Tottenham.
“For him it’s a brilliant move. The potential he has is quite scary and hopefully he can take those next steps and go to the next level.
“He’s going to be important for Wales as well. He’s going to be huge for us over the years to come and we’re all excited that he has another platform to go on and improve himself again.”
Wales play South Korea in a Cardiff friendly on Thursday before the more serious part of their September double-header in Riga next Monday.
Defeats to Armenia and Turkey in June have left Wales with a mountain to climb to automatically qualify for the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer, piling the pressure on manager Rob Page into the bargain.
Wales have won only once during a 12-game run that saw them fail to win a game and score only once – a Gareth Bale penalty – at their first World Cup appearance for 64 years.
That 1-0 victory came against Group D whipping boys Latvia in Cardiff in March.
Skipper Ramsey said: “We are all behind the gaffer as what he has done has been quite remarkable coming into the job in the circumstances that he did.
“We’ve got to a European Championship and a World Cup and now we have to go through a transitional period, which are always tricky at times.
“We have lost some big players and it was always going to be difficult. But now we’ve got an opportunity to bounce back and we know what we have to do.
“We’ve been in this position before. We had to take it to the Hungary game in the last European Championship and hopefully this will be a similar case.”
Ramsey says he is feeling the benefits of family life after returning to hometown club Cardiff.
He said: “I just feel like there has been a weight lifted off my shoulders, I am feeling a lot more free and I think that definitely helps going onto the pitch.
“It has been difficult being away from the family over the last 18 months, you need that balance right to be able to enjoy every aspect.”
Asked about the impending school run he will be undertaking, Ramsey said: “I’m looking forward to that, having three boys screaming in the car in the morning.
“I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to being a family again.”
What’s next for Wales?
Wales will host South Korea in a friendly on Thursday September 7 with kick-off at 7.45pm before travelling to Latvia on September 11 for a Euro 2024 qualifier. Kick-off 7.45pm.