New Blue profile: Scott Fraser has been dubbed 'best player in League One'
Scott Fraser is Ipswich Town’s eighth summer signing. STUART WATSON profiles the MK Dons midfield recruit.
Born and bred in Dundee, Fraser’s talent quickly had tongues wagging in United’s academy set-up.
At just 16 he was included in the pre-season first team squad only to suffer a leg break that would end his campaign before it had begun.
The teenager recovered to be named the club’s Under-20 Player of the Year in 2013/14. His reward was a senior debut as a late sub at Celtic on the final day of the season.
After a season on loan at third-tier club Airdrieonians, he returned to make his breakthrough.
Things got off to a rocky start as Finnish boss Mixu Paatelainen slaughtered his players after a 10-game winless streak. After a 5-0 loss at Celtic, he labelled them ‘rubbish with a capital R’.
Fraser, just 20 at the time, showed maturity when saying: “The gaffer has been right to say what he has because it’s true. Nobody is hiding from the fact that what’s been happening is unacceptable, especially last weekend.
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“We have to take on the responsibility of what it means to play for this club.”
Those sort of quotes will no doubt be music to Paul Cook’s ears given he’s not adverse to testing his players’ character with strong words and gestures.
Dundee United went on to get relegated that season. They finished third in the Championship the following year, losing in promotion Play-Off Final but winning the Challenge Cup.
The Scottish Sun reported: “Fraser has long been regarded as one of the most naturally gifted players to emerge from United’s academy system. Every manager who has worked with him has been in awe of his talent — but his work rate is something they’ve had question marks over.”
Boss Ray McKinion said: “Scotty played against Blackpool (in pre-season) last Friday and he was outstanding against a very, very good side.
“He’s a quality player but he needs to get into his head that he needs to do it for 90 minutes.
“This is a really big year for him. He has the potential to really kick on. For me, he has the best ability in Scotland.
“He has the potential to do anything he wants in the game — it’s up to him now.”
It was third-place again in 2017/18, with yet more play-off heartache.
Fraser, following more than 100 appearances for his home city club, decided it was time for a new challenge.
“Scott is a young, attacking midfielder who we feel has got potential to improve,” said Nigel Clough, upon signing Fraser for newly-relegated League One club Burton Albion in the summer of 2018.
“He can play in a few different positions and is very keen to come down to England to make his mark.”
Fraser said: “I’m an attacking player who likes to get on the ball whether that’s midfield or more of an attacking position. I like to create chances and assists for my team-mates but I want to add more goals too.
“I was coming to the end of my contract and was speaking about a new one, but I just felt a change was needed to move away, grow up and try and improve as a player. Everything about this move felt right.”
Seven goals and five assists followed for Fraser as the Brewers finished ninth and reached the League Cup semi-finals.
“I am much fitter than I was up the road,” said Fraser.
“At United I was always at the top on how far I’d run, but since I have been here and pushed on I am now running much harder. The GPS after games shows that.
“The manager gets on my case because he’s demanding. He’s told me it’s because he thinks I can do better, so it’s a good thing.”
'BEST PLAYER IN LEAGUE ONE’
Fraser’s form went up another notch in 2019/20.
In an early season 4-2 win at Oxford he scored a hat-trick and assisted the other with a corner delivery.
Derbyshire Live reports that Fraser ‘swept home a trio of left-footed shots, his first a fizzing drive from 16 yards, the second a deflected shot and the third, the pick of the lot, curling home from 20 yards’.
"I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful hat-trick," said Clough.
“I think he is unlucky because there are so many good midfielders in Scotland.
"If he was a forward or a defender, I think he'd be seriously being looked at for the squad. Hopefully he is on the radar now.
"When anybody scores a hat-trick from midfield, I think people stand up and take notice.
"I don't think it's beyond the realms of possibility that he can make the international squad.”
A Scotland call didn’t come, but Fraser finished the Covid curtailed campaign a wanted man after scoring nine goals, providing 14 assists and finishing third in the league for key passes. Those are impressive numbers in a team that finished 12th.
Liam Boyce, who had moved from Burton to Hearts in the January, said: “I played against Scotty in Scotland when he was with Dundee United.
“I thought he was a good player but I didn’t realise how good he was until he came to Burton a couple of years after that.
“He’s been Burton’s best player by a mile and will end up going somewhere big in the summer.
“He’s unbelievable. He has a class left foot, doesn’t do anything fancy, just does what needs to be done. He’s the best player in League One.”
CHOOSING MK DONS
It was a surprise when Fraser stayed in League One.
After being handed the No.10 shirt at MK Dons, he said: “I made no secret I wanted to go to the Championship but the clubs weren’t right and neither was the style of football.
“I’ve come here because the chairman and manager made me feel wanted and because I’m excited to be a part of what this club is trying to do.”
Boss Russell Martin said: “He’s a player that I’ve liked and admired for a while. He was probably one of the best midfielders that we played against last season and his goal and assist record, particularly in this division, speaks for itself.
“We went for him really early in the window but we thought he’d gotten away from us because of the interest that was in him. We’ve kept working on it and over the last few days, it became a real option for us.”
Fraser quickly became a fans’ favourite.
He scored the winner at Charlton in December and then promptly dedicated it to manager Martin, whose father had just passed away.
The Milton Keynes Citizen gave him a 9/10 player rating for that performance, enthusing: “Unplayable. Charlton could not do anything to stop him all night. Skipped challenges, dodged men, got through on goal at will. Took his goal really well too. His best show in a Dons shirt.”
In February, Fraser ended an eight-game goal drought with a fine solo effort in a 4-1 win at Rochdale.
"I've been frustrated, really frustrated to be honest," said Fraser. "The important thing is I've still been helping and contributing to the team with assists and a lot of work off the ball, which is something I've needed to add to my game, but that has taken away from the other side of it, because I've not had many chances in the last few games.
"I've got a big role in the team, the gaffer puts a lot of responsibility on me, and I like to be the player who the manager and fans look to to drag us through at times.
“I feel I've improved since I got here."
The following month, Fraser was subbed after half an hour of a 1-0 victory against Doncaster.
Asked if it was a tactical move, Martin said: “No it wasn't. Scotty's been one of our best players, there's no doubt about it. We love him, he's been incredible, but there are certain guidelines to adhere to in terms of performance and behaviour.
"When they go a bit skewed, it becomes an issue for me and I don't think he was able to carry on and perform how we wanted him to, so he came off.
"It won't be a big problem, we love him. He has a chance to react now, positively.
"He's a young guy who's learning. I'm an older guy but fairly new in this job, who's also still learning. It doesn't affect anything between us and my opinion of Scotty, but today I felt it was the right decision."
In April, Fraser revealed: “I’ve not been happy with myself. I’ve spoken to the gaffer about that. I have a really good relationship with him and Luke (Williams) where I can talk to them about anything.
“I’ve things off the pitch that I’m not really happy with at the moment. I think when you're happy, you play your best football. I spoke to them the other day and had a good chat about things that are going on. I hope that will bring back my best form.
“It has been tough for everyone these lockdowns. It's really tough being so far from my friends and family.
“Everything is good when things are going well, scoring and assisting, but it says a lot about the staff when things aren't going well. It could be easy for them to just think I’m not playing well, so I thank them for their support.”
He added: “I've got very high standards of myself. I know where I can play, where I should play and where I can get to. I’ve shown them standards.
“If you offered me this at the start of the season, seven good months without a pre-season, I'd have taken that.”
Nine of Fraser’s 14 goals were penalties last season. He has a 100% record from the spot.
After converting the winner at Sunderland last November, he was asked if he practiced the art. He replied: “Not really if I’m honest! I did a little bit with Laurie before the Eastleigh (FA Cup) game, just a bit of banter with him really, but normally I don’t like to work on them too much. I just take it as it comes.”
Later in the season, when holding his nerve to score a late winner against Plymouth from the spot, he revealed: "It's the first time I've changed my mind (about where to place the penalty) – I don't even know why.
"I probably won't be able to sleep because I'll be wondering why I wanted to change, knowing it could have been so different. But I back myself when I get the opportunity and I'm happy it went in and we got the win.”
LEFT IS BEST
Fraser has what’s known in the business as ‘wand of a left foot’.
Just four of his 50 career goals have been scored with his right.
He’s yet to score a header and his last direct free-kick goal came for Burton back in December 2019.
Speaking in March, he said: "I think getting 10 from midfield it's a really good season. I'll be doing some right-foot shooting on Friday when we're in training! I think if I can do that, right and left-footed shooting, it'll only improve me."
Fraser ended the hectic 2020/21 season with 14 goals and eight assists from 45 starts and five sub appearances.
According to Opta, no-one across the top four divisions had a better record when to came completed passes in the final third.
League One champions Hull were said to be interested in his signature, with reports that he would cost ‘a significant six-figure fee’. Wigan, backed by their new owners, were also strongly linked.
After Fraser was left out of a 3-1 friendly win over King's Lynn Town on Tuesday night, Martin explained: "We've rejected a bid, a good bid, but discussions are ongoing and I didn't think it was right to include him tonight.
"There has been a lot of discussion about his future over the summer.
“He's come back and trained and is in great condition, but then it's come to light about this interest. People have eight weeks to get business done, but then wait to do it two weeks into pre-season.
"We know what Scotty can bring, we saw it last season. If he stays, brilliant, fantastic. But if we get to a point when it's a good deal for everyone then so be it.”