Ryan Fraser is a contradiction incarnate. Born and raised in Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland, he then moved to the south coast of England to Bournemouth — 590 miles away at the opposite end of the country — at the tender age of eighteen. Only Eden Hazard surpassed him in Europe’s top five leagues for assists during the 2018/19 season. He started just nine Premier League games last season managing only one assist. He flirted with Arsenal and Tottenham over multi-million-pound transfers and Champions League aspirations. He ended up settling for Newcastle United on a free and fighting a relegation battle.
Fraser has been a dichotomy throughout his career. It is permeated with vehement highs and intense lows. Although, to contradict this contradiction itself, his career at Newcastle has been middling. It would be harsh to describe him as a disaster so far, but he has not been a success. Unfortunately, the thing with dichotomies is that they tend to lead to crossroads. Next season will be key for Fraser. Here we look to understand him a little more and what this means for the future of his career at Newcastle United.
Aberdeen is a consistent production line of quality Scottish players. It is arguable Ryan Fraser is the greatest recent graduate of their academy. Many Aberdeen fans hold him in high regard, but in true Ryan Fraser fashion, he has courted conflict.
He left Aberdeen to join Bournemouth in League One for a mere £400,000 having rejected a contract extension. “Aberdeen fans hated his guts when he left. There was a feeling he thought he was better than the club. Running down his contract and leaving for such a small fee didn’t help either.” is the opinion voiced by an Aberdeen fan True Faith spoke with. Although, they went on to reflect further on Fraser, “It’s been a few years now though. He’s done really well so the negative feeling toward him has mellowed. A lot of the fanbase is proud of him, he’s one of our own at the end of the day.’’ Fraser returned to Pittodrie on international duty for Scotland in November 2017 against the Netherlands; he received an excellent reception when coming off the bench during the friendly. The prodigal son was welcomed back with open arms.
Fraser’s flourishing and acknowledgement of his provenance — he returns home often and remains an avid Aberdeen fan — has seen his reputation restored in the northeast of Scotland. From love to hatred, then a return to love. Fraser’s actions and relationships at Aberdeen are just the beginning of polarisation in his career.
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Fraser’s Bournemouth career began with a low; he lost the first four games he made appearances in. In his fifth game, he appeared as a 33rd-minute substitute against Stevenage. He was subbed back off 22 minutes later. “One of my toughest days in football.” is how Fraser himself describes the event. However, Fraser went on to put that disastrous start well and truly behind him. He settled on the south coast, bonded with teammates, and flourished under the tutelage of Eddie Howe.
During the 2018/19 season, he created 77 chances in the Premier League. He registered seven goals and 14 assists. Fraser became one of the most sought-after assets in the Premier League, augmented by the fact he only had a year remaining on his contract. This is where his downfall began; he refused to sign a new contract while Bournemouth were mired in a relegation battle. He then refused to play after the Premier League’s restart following Coronavirus restriction easing. “I wasn’t myself, I didn’t play for the team.” This is Fraser’s own assessment when speaking to BBC Radio Solent about his last few months at Bournemouth. Professional footballers are — as a bare minimum — expected to give their all to their team. Fraser’s actions and admissions are the footballing equivalent of hari-kari. However, unlike Japanese samurais whose honour would be restored upon the commitment of this ritual, Fraser received further derision for his act. His reputation on the south coast of England was tarnished in perpetuity.
Another bout of contradiction and dissension. Fraser’s time at Bournemouth continued the trend of his reputation resembling a rollercoaster of ups and downs. However, this time the ride ended in a sharp descent.
Another Ryan Fraser anomaly is that he performs better for his country than his club; something that is uncommon in the modern game. He has four goals in 19 appearances for Scotland, a good return for a winger in a team behind Romania in FIFA’s World rankings. He rarely pulls out of squads and training camps. “He turns up and gives 100% every time. It’s rare for a modern player to perform better for his country than his club, but he does. Scotland fans absolutely love him.” one Scotland fan mused when asked about Fraser.
Fraser retained his place in Scotland’s 2020 UEFA European Football Championship squad; despite limited appearances for Newcastle during the 2020/21 season. There is a good chance he starts against England on Friday. He is clearly seen as an integral part of the Scotland squad. Ever-present at international level, but absent in club competitions. Another dichotomy.
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In a particular way, Newcastle United are an ideal fit for Ryan Fraser. We are very much a club of extremes. We are the most northern club in the Premier League. We play in black and white. We only know joy or despair and nothing in between.
Newcastle visited Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in January 2021. They had not won a game in the Premier League that season. Enter Newcastle United. Any other team and fan base would be anticipating an easy win. Not us, we knew what was coming. We failed to do what 17 clubs before us had done; we were beaten. We lost to a team bereft of confidence and with zero wins. Unsurprisingly Fraser was involved in this anomaly, he was sent off. Two bodies of unpredictability aligned and the result was obviously disastrous.
It is difficult to predict how Ryan Fraser’s career will go at Newcastle. He is unpredictable, contradictory, and polarising. All that is certain is that we can expect the unexpected. England began their Euro 2020 campaign with an easy win over World Cup finalists Croatia. Scotland were well-beaten and looked ragged against the unfancied Czech Republic. Logic suggests England are in for a routine win on Friday when they play Scotland. How shocked would we be if Fraser once again turned everything on its head and scored a winner?