At just 5ft 4in, Ryan Fraser is the smallest player in the English Premier League. But when he pulls on a Scotland jersey to win his first full cap tonight he can stand as tall as anyone after overcoming the brickbats to excel with Bournemouth.
The winger will make his debut against Canada at a sadly sparsely attended Easter Road. These low-key circumstances do not reflect the epic journey that has delivered Fraser to the brink of becoming a full international.
He endured scorn when he left Aberdeen for Bournemouth, perceived then to be a step down from his hometown club. Fraser knew almost immediately he’d made the right choice as he surveyed the well-appointed training facilities and quickly discerned manager Eddie Howe’s qualities.
But for those who couldn’t see for themselves the benefits of moving south the switch, in 2013, was hard to fathom. Particularly wounding for Fraser, then still a teenager seeking to make his way in the game, was his family back home in Aberdeen having to take the brunt of the criticism meant for him.
“I felt like I made the right choice two weeks into the move,” the 23 year-old said earlier this week.
“I got hammered for it and my family got hammered for it. I got tweets and messages, which were quite abusive, but I didn’t really react to it. I just do my talking on the pitch. If some people still think I’ve made the wrong decision, fair enough. Everyone’s got their opinion and they’re entitled to it.”
But what wasn’t acceptable were the unpleasant comments directed at his parents, Debbie and Graeme, in the street.
Fraser recalled: “People were saying ‘why has he done that? He shouldn’t have done it. It’s a stupid decision’. It’s nothing to do with my mum and dad but they would be affected by it.”
Now all Fraser needs to do in answer to such questions is point to his first Scotland call-up as well as a new, lucrative three-and-a-half year deal he signed with Bournemouth last month.
Howe, pictured right, beamed with delight at extending the player’s contract and calculated it saved the club at least £8 million – the sum they’d have to spend to sign a player like Fraser now.
Such a statement only piles on the agony for Aberdeen supporters, riled not only by Fraser’s quick departure after breaking into the first team but also by the size of fee, according to reports, just £400,000.
Fraser wonders if a figure can be put on what his parents sacrificed to help him become the player he is now.
He owes his mum for the priceless asset of speed, something that has helped make up for his height in a league he described as “the land of the giants”. Debbie, he smiled, is still faster than him now. “My mum was a 100m sprinter for Scotland,” he revealed. “That’s where I probably get my pace from. She’s faster than me – a lot faster!” he added. “She’s injured right now and we’d have a sprint down the street and she’d still nearly beat me. She’s [even] smaller than me but she’s rapid!
“She was going to run in the Olympics and then she had a knee injury which needed an op and that screwed her over really.”
But how he became a footballer, he really doesn’t know. Neither his mother nor father has any interest in the game. Or at least they didn’t until he started kicking a ball around.
It’s not as if the exploits of his local team were inspiring him because by this point the Frasers had moved from Aberdeen to Oman.
“My dad used to work offshore,” explained Fraser. “I had a ball and I used to just kick it about. My dad was never good at sport.
“When he thought I was good at football at a young age, he actually quit his job and came back over to Aberdeen to get me in a team. If it weren’t for that, I might still be in the Middle East somewhere.”
“It was a huge sacrifice because my dad would have been on good money working offshore,” he added.
“There were no guarantees I’d make it as a player but he gave a lot up just so that I had a chance.”
Gordon Strachan is among those grateful for the Frasers returning to Aberdeen. He must also be impressed with the winger’s bravery for heading to England when he did.
Similarly to Strachan, pictured above left, Fraser has developed into a player capable of overcoming his lack of inches with core strength. The muscles on his arms as he sits and narrates his story attest to time spent at a club where physical and mental conditioning is a paramount concern.
Fraser, who has been working with a sports psychologist, is confident he can give Strachan something to think about this evening ahead of Sunday’s crunch clash with Slovenia. Indeed, tonight’s friendly with Canada carries just as much significance as a vital World Cup qualifier for Fraser, whose first cap will return with his parents to Aberdeen with the love of an ever-appreciative son.