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Thanks, Arsene for wise advice.


ARSENE WENGER is a man I've long admired, as much for the way he's stood up to Fergie's broadsides as for the delightful brand of football he introduced to the Premier League.

It seems that all of us in Wales have cause to thank the Arsenal manager now for persuading Aaron Ramsey that joining the Great Britain Olympic squad was not such a great idea after all.

Ramsey's name was conspicuously absent when Gareth Bale (inset) and Craig Bellamy were revealed as the two Welshmen in the list of 80 from which Stuart Pearce will finalise his squad.

This could still change over the coming few weeks. But I'm told Ramsey decided, on the advice of his boss, that training and playing for much of the summer for what is a hotchpotch team in a Mickey Mouse competition is hardly the perfect way to prepare for next season.

It promises to be a huge season for the 21-year-old, facing the challenge of a fit-again Jack Wilshire to retain his place at Arsenal. And leading Wales into a World Cup campaign that finally gives some promise of a real challenge for a place in the finals.

That long march to Rio begins against Belgium on September 9, when we desperately need him to be burning with all the energy of a new season.

The point was not lost on Chris Coleman, already resigned to being without his top goalie Wayne Hennessey and fearful of losing more players.

While the FA of Wales have urged their players not to take part, fearing that, once the four Home Nations play under one banner, FIFA could demand they continue that way, they are helpless to prevent Bale and Bellamy opting to join the circus.

Bale's brilliance and Bellamy's pace and energy will be crucial.

But Ramsey is the most important of all. The shy lad from the Welsh valleys has blossomed into the very heartbeat of the side. If he plays well, Wales will play well - testimony to his huge influence.

If he's not there, Wales become an orchestra without a conductor - and we've suffered enough looney-tunes in the past!

Making him captain at such a tender age was a decision I queried at the time, but was a master stroke from Gary Speed.

"Aaron is a lot more mature than people give him credit for. I was convinced he would grow as captain rather than be overwhelmed," was Speed's answer a few months later.

Gary, sadly, is no longer around to witness Ramsey's development. But Coleman insists Aaron will remain his leader.

That's why we need you in prime form, Aaron.

You're our five-ringed inspiration.

...................................... I LIKED the postscript from Malky Mackay, after Mark Hudson's stunning 68-yard goal for Cardiff against Derby. "My longest goal from a shot came from about half a yard. Mind, I scored some good ones with my head. I could head the ball further than I could kick it!" ...................................... GOOD luck to Matt Jones, who runs in the London Marathon today to raise funds for the John Hartson cancer foundation - and as a personal tribute to Gary Speed. "Gary was my mentor, my idol," says Jones, whose own promising career was wrecked by injury in his twenties.


OFF THE LIST: Aaron can focus on Wales' bid for World Cup
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 22, 2012
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