Rae can leave mark on Arsenal's boyo wonder
Cardiff City's Gavin Rae has a message for young Aaron Ramsey when the boyo wonder returns to Ninian Park today, and it is one that may just find its way into the Arsène Wenger whinge should Arsenal fall foul this lunchtime. Try any of that funny, twisty, turny stuff and Ramsey "might just feel a stud in the back of his legs".
To be fair to Rae, a limited but effective midfielder who effortlessly and somewhat cruelly evokes those clichés of "enforcer" and "journeyman", that is just the way of his trade. It is, as he puts it, "my job to get tight". "It would have nothing to do with Aaron," said Rae. "Whoever it is, if they try to go round you and get away with it once too often, you have to get close and do what you have to."
So Ramsey beware. Or probably not. Listening to Rae at the Cardiff training ground on Friday waxing lyrical about the lad just turned 18, one could be forgiven for suspecting that this could be a case of the young pup mesmerising the old dog with the tricks he could not teach him the first time around.
"Aaron taught me a few lessons in training last year," said the 31-year-old Rae. "He's outstanding for his age. Just ridiculous ability. When I first signed I heard about him. And then I saw him, when he started training with us."
It was, as they say, an eye-opener, and would also prove a wallet-opener as word soon spread of this outrageous talent nicknamed Rambo. "When you are just starting it's difficult to get used to training every day but when he did, he would take sessions by the scruff of the neck," said Rae. "He used to run the show. Everybody used to speak about him afterwards. His balance and his ability on the ball – he was the best kid I've seen in the game by miles."
That can be viewed as quite a compliment, coming as it does from a former Rangers captain. The cynical might see it as a bit of deflected self-praise, as Rae and Stephen McPhail kept Ramsey's first-team starts at Cardiff to just 14. Not so, says the Aberdonian. "The manager was just trying to protect him," assertedRae. Protection, however, will be decidedly thin on this most hostile of grounds today, though Rae is not too sure that the£5 million signing will need any.
"Rambo's strong, as well as everything else," he said. "And I don't think the atmosphere or coming back to Cardiff will affect him. He's that relaxed and laid-back a boy that he probably wouldn't even think about it. It'll be good if Wenger does pick him, as he's a great wee player." And to anyone who doubts the Cardiffian down Emirates way, Rae has a prediction. "Rambo has made a statement already," he said. "If he keeps developing the way he can, he's got every chance of being a massive player for Wales. He'll be a superstar the game over if he keeps his head down. And he will, because he's that sort of character."
Rae is unashamed in his admiration, just as he is honest enough in his appraisal of a fourth-round tie that has reignited the Cardiff Cup mania so soon after their final last May. "Going around the city, everyone thinks we've a chance," said Rae. "I think we have too, but we've got to remember how good Arsenal are. I didn't realise what a record they have in the FA Cup against clubs in lower leagues until Mr Wenger reminded us the other day. We'll just have to buck that trend."
But if they don't, Rae will just go back to steering Cardiff into the "there or thereabouts" position in the Championship. The Scottish international's own form has come right at the required stage for Dave Jones's side, as the fight becomes scrappier and ever more intense.
When Rae turned his back on the SPL on leaving Rangers at the end of the 2006-07 season, he did so with one aim. Not Wembley, but another Premier League. "We've done all right so far and if we carry on we won't be far away," he said.
But first there is Arsenal, and a visit that just happens to fall on Burns Night. Alas, for Rae and the other two Scotsmen in the first team (Ross McCormack and Kevin McNaughton) there can be no wild supper regardless of this afternoon's result, as there is a League match on Wednesday. But the club's catering staff did create their own Burns Lunch in the players' canteen last week.
"None of the other lads ate it except the kit man, and he'll eat anything," said Rae. "The rest just gave us Scottish boys some abuse. But it was cool, having haggis on the menu." They don't get that at the Emirates.
Red tide: Wenger's record against lesser lights
Since Arsène Wenger took over at Arsenal in 1996, they have never lost in the FA Cup to a team from outside the Premier League – a run of 23 games:
Arsenal 0 Port Vale 0; Port Vale 1 Arsenal 1 (Arsenal won 4-3 on penalties); Middlesbrough 1 Arsenal 2; Arsenal 1 Wolves 0.
Preston North End 2 Arsenal 4; Wolves 1 Arsenal 2; Arsenal 2 Sheffield Utd 1; Arsenal 2 Sheffield Utd 1 (match replayed).
Arsenal 3 Blackpool 1.
Carlisle Utd 0 Arsenal 1; Queens Park Rangers 0 Arsenal 6.
Watford 2 Arsenal 4; Arsenal 5 Gillingham 2.
Arsenal 2 Oxford Utd 0; Farnborough 1 Arsenal 5; Arsenal 1 Sheffield Utd 0.
Arsenal 2 Stoke City 1; Arsenal 2 Wolves 0; Arsenal 1 Sheffield Utd 1; Sheffield Utd 0 Arsenal 0 (Arsenal won 4-2 on penalties).
Arsenal 2 Cardiff City 1.
Burnley 0 Arsenal 2.
Arsenal 3 Plymouth Argyle 1.