What does the future hold for Gastón Ramírez?

The Uruguay playmaker has struggled to make an impression on English football since joining Southampton four years ago, but looks to be kickstarting his stuttering career out on loan at Middlesbrough

What does the future hold for Gastón Ramírez?
Gastón Ramírez' future looks as uncertain as ever despite impressing on loan at Middlesbrough | Photo: caughtoffside.com

When Gastón Ramírez joined Southampton in the summer of 2012 for an eight-figure sum, the Uruguayan schemer looked to have the world at his feet.

After playing and impressing for his country at the 2012 Olympic Games and a Serie A season with Bologna which brought eight goals and five assists, Ramírez' move to the harsh spotlight of the Premier League seemed the next logical career step.

Under the stewardship of Nigel Adkins, the Saints were taking their first steps back in the top flight after a seven-year absence, and Ramírez - alongside Englishman Jay Rodriguez, signed from Burnley - was to be a symbol of the club's attacking confidence and continental verve off the pitch and it's increasingly international outlook off it.

Ramírez represents Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup | Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty
Ramírez represents Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup | Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty

Fast-forward four years, and Ramírez is on loan in England's second tier, after a largely unsuccessful stint with relegated Hull City last year. At 25, this should be the prime of his career - the immediate picture looks to be one of another lightweight South American who couldn't make it in England and whose career is petering out as a result. But is this fair?

The Championship is not a graveyard for failed players

Ramírez' presence in the Championship is proof in itself that the standard of players in the second flight is higher than ever before.

There is further evidence of this elsewhere in his current side Middlesbrough, with teammate Stewart Downing having made the step down to return to his hometown club despite impressing sufficiently for West Ham to win a recall to the England squad.

Elsewhere in the league, Championship teams have more spending power than ever before, with star assets such as Ross McCormackAndre Gray and Jordan Rhodes all remaining in the second tier.

A drop down from the top flight, therefore, is perhaps not the sounding of the death knell for a player's Premier League career, but a potential springboard to re-energise an an ailing player short on confidence and unable to string first-team minutes together.

Ramírez has clicked with his new team

On top of this, the early signs seem to suggest that in Middlesbrough, Ramírez has found a club which suits him. Thought to be short of a creative fulcrum in the first half of the season despite their title-chasing form, Boro have a fondness for South American stars dating back to the halcyon days of Juninho and Emerson, and the signing of Ramírez was welcomed with open arms.

Joining at the end of the January transfer window, there was always likely to be the chance that Ramírez would struggle to settle on Teesside, but the club was well-equipped to slot him in. 

He has frequently posted photos on social media with Uruguayan compatriot Carlos de Pena and international teammate Cristhian Stuani, while former Uruguay goalkeeper Leo Percovich is a popular member of the coaching team.

Gastón Ramírez with fellow Uruguayans Carlos de Pena (L) and Cristhian Stuani (R) at Middlesbrough
Ramírez (C) with fellow Uruguayans Carlos de Pena (L) and Cristhian Stuani (R) at Middlesbrough | Photo: @Stuani08

His early form has been good, though some teams have recognised his threat and man-marked him out of games. After he dominated the opening 45 minutes of a game with Rotherham United in which Boro did everything but score, he was silenced in the second half and the Millers went on to snatch a late winner.

However, after a two-goal match-winning display against Wolves at the beginning of March, Boro boss Aitor Karanka told The Gazette that he would sign the player "tomorrow" if he had the chance, and he is likely to be high on the Spaniard's summer shopping list if he helps his new club to promotion.

Gastón Ramírez, wearing number 21, runs the show for Middlesbrough

Karanka's glowing praise for Ramírez is in stark contrast to the views of Saints manager Ronald Koeman, who stated in January that "he's ending his contract and is not in the plans for the future of the club". Wherever Ramírez is playing his football one year from now, it seems unlikely that it will be at St Mary's.

When Koeman was speaking, it seemed that his next destination would be a return to Italy, with his agent confident of securing a transfer back to Bologna, where Ramírez spent two seasons after leaving Uruguayan side Peñarol.

Ramírez could look abroad if Boro move fails

This could still happen. Karanka has suggested that Ramírez still intends to showcase his undeniable talent in England, but if Middlesbrough fail to win promotion this season - and their stuttering post-January form suggests this could be the case - his struggles at Southampton and Hull in the top flight could ward other potential suitors away.

Though it is becoming an increasingly popular step for South American footballers to return home - Carlos Tevez is back at Boca Juniors, while Sergio Agüero plans on moving to Independiente at the end of his current contract - it is surely too early in Ramírez' career to consider this.

The logical step, therefore, would be a transfer to another European league such as La Liga or Serie A, with a style of play he already knows well. 

Yet, his status as a South American playmaker with more than 30 international caps means he could prove an attractive target for a team in the burgeoning Chinese Super League.

He would join recent signings such as Alex TeixeiraEzequiel Lavezzi and Fredy Guarín in a league which, despite its alien nature to English fans, does not seem to carry the same stigma of a retirement home as its apparent rival, America's MLS.

Ezequiel Lavezzi is one player to wave goodbye to Europe in favour of the Chinese League | Photo: americatv.com.pe
 Lavezzi is one player to have waved goodbye to Europe in favour of the Chinese League | Photo: americatv.com.pe

Whatever his next move, whether he stays with Middlesbrough, finds another Premier League club willing to take a chance or starts afresh in a foreign league, Ramírez is still a player with the potential to make more of his career.

This is not to belittle his achievements so far. Any player with 34 international appearances and a World Cup tournament under his belt has done fairly well for himself, after all.

Yet, the fact remains that the 2009/10 Primera División in his native Uruguay is the only trophy Ramírez has lifted. A Championship title in England could still be added to this, but it is hardly what he must have had in mind at the age of 21.

Ramírez, in the right environment, can be an excellent player. It is now up to him to decide where that environment is.