Rants and musings from the magazine team
Sports writer Scott Johnson speaks to the 20-year-old fullback who has gone against the tide by swapping the English Premier League for Belgium's Jupiler League...
Forget Michael Owen’s switch to Stoke and Scott Sinclair swapping Swansea’s wing for Manchester City’s bench – the most left-field transfer of the summer involved a Manchester United youngster and failed move to Tottenham.
Having allowed his contract with the Red Devils to expire, left-back Ezekiel Fryers spent the summer training with Spurs, with a view to completing a move to the North London side. However, when compensation proved an insurmountable stumbling block, he was left facing an unexpected move to Belgium.
“United offered a three-year contract but I rejected the offer,” Fryers tells FourFourTwo. “Spurs were interested but the fee [Manchester United requested] was too much. Then Standard Liege arrived with a good opportunity for me to play regular games and get experience.”
Fryers was happy to swap Manchester for Wallonia
In upping sticks from Old Trafford over the summer, Fryers became the third star of United’s 2011 FA Youth Cup winning side to leave the club within 15 months of that triumph, following Paul Pogba (Juventus) and Ravel Morrison (West Ham) out of the exit door.
“I don’t know the other players’ situations,” Fryers says. “I thought it was the right time for me to leave and get experience playing in good league.”
Fryers hasn't heard from Sir Alex Ferguson since leaving the club, with the United boss believed to be less than pleased at the young defender’s departure.
The 20-year-old started in the Carling Cup victories at Leeds and Aldershot last season, emerging from the bench in a further four games, including a Champions League tie against Otelul Galati. Fryers reflects on this relatively fruitful period as "a great experience", but remains convinced it was the right time to leave the club: “You never know what will happen in football, but I made the right decision for me.”
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Ferguson's reaction may have been born of frustration. With Patrice Evra struggling to find consistent form and a shortage of alternatives at left-back, Fryers may have been afforded more first-team opportunities had he stayed. That said, Fryers has his doubts: “I feel the club would have still brought in a left back because there was talk of me and Fabio going on loan.”
United subsequently signed Alexander Buttner from Vitesse, loaning Fabio to Queens Park Rangers.
Since arriving in Liege, Fryers has already matched last season’s appearance count, and is enjoying playing for a new club in a new country.
“For me, every game is more experience. It is a new challenge for me but I think I’m doing well as far as now. The Belgian League is different, but there is a lot of quality. It has developed some great players that are now in the Premier League."
Standard currently sit seventh in a 16-team league, but are intent on climbing the table, ahead of an elaborate play-off phase which begins in March.
Fryers (right) in Jupiler League action against Mons in October
“Standard Liege is a top club in Belgium who want to be in the top three every year. We're not doing so well at the moment but are getting better and better. With the play-off system, the end of the season is the most important period.”
With very few young British players willing to experience foreign football cultures, Fryers deserves credit for embarking on his European adventure – one which presents challenges both on and off the pitch.
“It is important to play different styles of football, but it is also a big challenge because you need to adapt to living in another country and to the way they play football,” says Fryers.
Fryers has represented England three times at Under-19 level, but it remains to be seen whether playing overseas will help or hinder his international opportunities. At present, Fryers is content to concentrate on developing and cementing his place in the Standard defence: “My first goal is to grow as a player, not to get international recognition directly.”
Having signed a two-year deal, Fryers intends to remain in Belgium for the foreseeable future, but having come so close to joining Spurs, he knows nothing can be set in stone.
“In football, everything changes very quickly. Today I’m at Standard in the first year of my contract and I want it to be as good as possible. Maybe after that I can go one step higher. Step by step.”
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