Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman? The punchline hopefully includes the latter helping the nation to a major finals for the first time in more than 20 years, which would certainly have the country smiling.
Under the guidance of a man he unflinchingly believes will be England manager one day, and another who guided the Republic of Ireland to the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup, midfielder Ryan Fraser hopes he can be the game changer Scotland need to book their place at Euro 2020.
Since leaving Aberdeen five years ago to join League One Bournemouth, his career has mirrored the club’s upward trajectory and these days both are more than holding their own in the high-profile Premier League, but it is only now that Fraser believes he is mentally and physically ready to really take his career by the scruff of the neck.
“I am trying to be the main man, to be honest. Now I’m 24 and I think if I want to go where I want my career to go then I have to step up now instead of letting the big players change the game. I want to be the one to change games.
“If I play. So far I only have three caps and one start but I want to prove in training that I can be relied on if called upon. If I am then I will just be doing what I do for Bournemouth and trying to take that into this team.”
His club performances have been impressive. Current statistics show that only Liverpool’s Mo Salah has created more goalscoring opportunities for himself or colleagues than the Scotsman in the star-laden English top tier this term. Fraser has also contributed goals from his preferred left-mid berth and he concedes that things “could not have gone much better” so far this season.
“Obviously bigger teams have more chances and I’m not going to beat Salah because he will get about seven or eight chances in a game whereas I might get one or two but if I can keep creating these chances and, hopefully, taking a number of them myself, then that will be great. I had very good chances against Chelsea at the weekend and I didn’t quite take them but on another day I could have had two or three goals against Chelsea. I think it is early doors but I do feel like this could be a big season for myself.
“I said to myself during last season that I have always grown, in every Premier League game, in terms of goals and assists, and the manager spoke to me and said that he believes that I can do even more but my mindset had to change because if I didn’t then he would pick someone else over me. I think it has obviously started well for me and I have got two goals and two assists in five games so if I can keep that going then that will go a long way.”
Teased by team-mates who describe him as the manager’s favourite, Fraser says that Eddie Howe has been a massive influence on him. When he first joined, the gaffer would take him out to dinner, hoping to help him settle but also taking the chance to get a clearer picture of his fledgling star and what makes him tick.
“That’s changed now, I think because I’m not quite as young anymore. I think it was because I was struggling with not having my family down there and going down there at only 17. But that’s another thing he’s good at – off the pitch, he likes to know more about you, about your family and what you like and the more he knows, the more he can help you.”
A fan of the man who has steered the club to some impressive feats after coming on board in the lower reaches, Fraser says Howe is well on the way to making The Cherries an established Premier League club.
“He thinks we can finish top-six soon if he can keep getting the players and keep improving us. And then you never know what he’ll do. He will be England manager one day.”
But if Howe is the steady and committed archetypal one percenter, looking for marginal gains, Fraser’s loan spell, at Ipswich, under the watchful eye of former Republic of Ireland international Mick McCarthy, was a different kind of education.
“In football these days, there’s so many things you need to think of. Mick McCarthy just stripped everything back and said go and play your game. Wherever you want to be, just go and get the ball and do your thing. Sometimes, as a player, you can get lumbered with thinking about so many things. It’s not just on the ball, it’s off the ball as well, and you start to think about that so you’re not thinking about what you’re going to do when you get ball or how you’re going to impact the game.
“Mick McCarthy did me the world of good. If I hadn’t gone there then, I don’t think I would be playing in the Premier League now, if I am being honest. He is a different manager and it’s not so much about improving you on the training pitch, it’s what he does off the pitch, with boosting confidence. Mick McCarthy was massive for me. I don’t think I really believed in myself when I first went there but he got me believing in myself and changed everything.”
Now Fraser has the task of helping turn Scotland’s fortunes around as they embark on the latest qualification journey against Albania tomorrow night.
“I think I was four years old [the last time Scotland featured in a major finals, in 1998]. It’s been a long time and it’s something we need to change. The last few years have been bad so something needs to change.”