Much has been made over the departure of Paul Pogba to Juventus this summer, especially considering the potential the Frenchman possessed in the centre of the park, but he seems to have become the third member of Manchester United’s 2011 FA Youth Cup winning side to exit Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson allowed Ravel Morrison and his much-publicised baggage to leave for West Ham and Pogba has chosen to take up a lucrative contract in Italy, but the third possible departure, Ezekiel Fryers, appears a strange decision on paper.
Fryers has let his contract run down with the Red Devils and Tottenham are reportedly on standby, ready to seal a deal with a fee that will be settled by tribunal. It’s potentially a promising capture for the club and Andre Villas-Boas will hope the Fryers can kick on and push his regular centre backs for a first team spot. For Sir Alex, it represents another significant blow in regards to youth team players. He may not be willing to give in to their inflated wage demands, but there’s no doubting that Fryers and Pogba had the talent to break into the United side in the future.
The 19-year-old only really came under the spotlight last season, initially making his debut against Leeds United during a third round League Cup match. He impressed that night alongside Michael Carrick at the heart of the United defence and began to push for further first team inclusion. Further appearances in the next round of the League Cup against Aldershot, where he showed his versatility by playing at left back, and as a substitute in the Champions League during a 2-0 win over Oțelul Galați followed. Having made his debut in the Premier League as a substitute against Wolves, he made what seems to be his final appearance in United first team colours off the bench once more against Wigan on Boxing Day.
That proved to be the last we saw of Fryers for the season as Rio Ferdinand returned to full fitness and Jonny Evans also started to deliver some of the best form of his career so far. By July, Fergie revealed the club hadn’t heard from Fryers about their offer of a new contract and he hadn’t been seen at the training ground either before the youngster announced he is set to join Tottenham. He will see the move to White Hart Lane as a decent opportunity to further his career, as the queue to the Manchester United first team appears to be reasonably sized, with Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Smalling and Jones all blocking the spots in the centre of defence. Even at left back, Fryers’s second position, Patrice Evra remains the top dog and Fergie is looking to sign Leighton Baines as cover, while Fabio, despite spending the season on loan at QPR, is still part of the grand plan.
At Tottenham however, things look more positive for Fryers. At left back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto has made noises about leaving the club, while his back-up, Danny Rose, can’t decide whether he’s a left back or left midfielder. At the heart of the back four, Ledley King has retired, Michael Dawson is struggling with injuries and Steven Caulker is unproven under the pressure cooker of top four football, leaving Younes Kaboul as their only certain choice for next year. Fryers may not force his way into the picture this season, but he will fancy his chances of knuckling down and giving new boss Villas-Boas something to think about.
There’s no doubting Fryers is a talented defender, he’s worked his way through the England youth setup, winning ten caps for the U19’s. Whether he’s made the right decision, only time will tell. Spurs’s record with buying talented young players isn’t exactly top notch, you only have to mention the names John Bostock, Chris Gunter or Giovani Dos Santos to see that White Hart Lane can be an unforgiving place for young starlets. However, things have certainly improved on that front, indeed Harry Redknapp introduced a number of academy products into to the first team last season, while Villas-Boas can continue that development given his preference for young, hungry players.
Conversely, United seem to be struggling with their prospects recently. The departures of Pogba, Morrison and Fryers is testament to that, while the likes of Rafael and Fabio haven’t developed at the rate United fans expected. And the less said about Federico Macheda, the better. Fryers’s versatility will come in handy, and you have to say, the thought of him forming an all-English defensive partnership with Steven Caulker at White Hart Lane is a savoury thought.