Ramsdale, who turned 23 yesterday, has suffered relegation in the last two Premier League seasons, with Bournemouth and now Sheffield United.
The goalkeeper returned for a second spell at Bramall Lane last summer with huge gloves to fill, replacing Dean Henderson who has established himself as Manchester United’s first-choice goalkeeper after two season-long loans in South Yorkshire.
Lacking Henderson’s presence and huge confidence, Ramsdale was held up by many early in the season as an example of the poor recruitment which contributed to manager Chris Wilder losing his job but has grown in assurance as the campaign has gone on and now looks a genuine contender to rival Henderson and his opposite number at Goodison Park tomorrow, Everton’s Jordan Pickford, for England caps.
“He’s a young boy,” pointed out Heckingbottom. “You look at his form and he’s been excellent.
“In terms of being an asset to the football club, his value is soaring.
“At that age, the club he’s at, the fact he’s got all this gametime under his belt at such a young age, he’s just going to keep getting better and better.
“It shows why the club went down the route it did to try and lower the average age of the squad. It’s one thing doing it for that reason but players have to perform.”
One game in particular from Wilder’s time sticks in the mind of Heckingbottom, who stepped up from Under-23 coach in March.
“He came in for some criticism at the start of the season but he was still doing a lot of things well,” argued the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager.
“I remember one game he made a point-blank save against West Brom (in February) and we ended up winning the game. I think it would probably have been offside but no one knew that and it was a big, big moment. I texted Wardy (the Blades’ then-goalkeeping coach Darren Ward) about it afterwards because I thought he deserved that.
“He’s never looked back. He’s become stronger, cleaner in his work and still showed the same good habits and been safe and sound in other aspects. He’s shown a real good mentality to come through that.
“In my time working with him he’s been excellent so I’ve got nothing but praise for him.”
You often learn more in adversity than the good times, and Heckingbottom believes Ramsdale’s footballing education will have served him well.
“He’s had experience before, he’s had loan moves (to Chesterfield and Wimbledon) and played in the Premier League before,” he pointed out. “He’s got a lot of experience for someone of that age.
“He has international experience (in age-group football) and I know how highly they rate him with England (where is an Under-21 international). He’s already built that resistance and mental toughness. Having gone through what he has done this season he’ll be even tougher again.
“If and when he goes through anything similar again he’ll be even better equipped to deal with it.”
If Ramsdale is getting stronger as the season comes to an end, the same certainly cannot be said of the squad as a whole.
Oliver Burke has become the latest to have his campaign ended by injury – in his case a broken foot – and Heckingbottom admits he does not know if the spate of problems is a cause or consequence of the team’s struggles.
“It’s the biggest correlation ever that a team struggling, injuries always spike,” he argued. “It’s chicken and egg. I’m not too sure if the injuries lead to the dip in results or the results lead to the injuries.”
Oli McBurnie, Billy Sharp and Jack O’Connell’s seasons are over and Heckingbottom is unwilling to take risks with Ethan Ampadu, whose long-standing pelvic problem has got the better of him lately, and Sander Berge, who picked up a niggle unrelated to his hamstring surgery in making his first start of 2021.
The difficulties of facing Everton tomorrow evening are added to by how hard they are to second-guess.
“They’ve been inconsistent through the season, on their day they’ve beaten everyone and anyone and on other days the results haven’t gone their way,” says Heckingbottom.
“That’s probably been reflected in playing lots of different systems and shapes so they’ve not been easy to pin down but in terms of the personnel, the key players and the threats they bring, it’s there for all to see.”
Meanwhile, the Blades have announced that due to social distancing protocols and safety certificate requirements capacity will be limited to 5,096 for next Sunday’s home game against Burnley, due to be the first in front of crowds at Bramall Lane since Norwich City’s visit on March 7, 2020.
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