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Stardom can wait for young Don with a ball at his feet

CRAIG Brown invites you into the home dressing room at Pittodrie and you are almost blinded by the riot of iridescent red and white paint.

Ryan Fraser has been tipped for great things, but with an old head on his young shoulders he knows he still has much to learn and is in no hurry to move on
Ryan Fraser has been tipped for great things, but with an old head on his young shoulders he knows he still has much to learn and is in no hurry to move on

It is here, he indicates, that Alex Ferguson tested the capability of his throwing arm with tea cups. It is here that Brown, sometimes intemperately, forgets all about his seniority and kicks anything that is not stapled to the floor.

Whether such temptation will overwhelm the Aberdeen manager on Saturday, when his side entertain Celtic, is a matter for fans' forums and debating societies. Certainly, he seems to be gradually putting those times of physical extravagance behind him as a new generation of players rises from the ashes.

He insists that this same dressing room, once allegedly described by former captain Paul Hartley as the worst he had been in, has been cleansed of cliques and insidious divisions. Salaries have been trimmed, egos jettisoned and seasoned professionals called upon to nurture the plethora of enterprising young bloods. The Dons are rebuilding with the sand and cement of Jordon Brown, Cammy Smith, Joe Shaughnessy, Nicky Low, Declan McManus – and, of course, Ryan Fraser.

There is, inevitably, a small problem which could easily achieve major status. Will that future include the precocity of Fraser? Can Aberdeen, firmly in the stranglehold of debt and still without new premises, manage to satisfy his ambition and keep him financially happy? Or will their loyalty to a pound note encourage them to sell him?

Remember, he has everything required of a modern-day winger: speed, bravery and the inherent urge to torture opponents. Or, as Jimmy Johnstone used to say, get close enough to the full-back to "smell his breath" – then whip the ball past him.

Today, the cotton wool which cocoons Fraser has been temporarily discarded for what is to be his first one-to-one interview. Brown has told him, playfully, that he is about to become a superstar. I imagine, remembering the aforementioned ingredients, that the 18-year-old requires no help from me in this department.

As it happens, Ryan Fraser is unwell – not, I should point out, in the fashion that afflicted the late Jeffrey Bernard. The embryonic superstar does not touch alcohol and apparently has no inclination to do so. A virus has left him feeling "sick and dizzy" – which is how he invariably leaves his opponents.

Nonetheless, he is waiting for me in the players' room. Ideally, he should be at home. But this is an energetic teenager: training is always the preferred option to lying in bed. Thus, we begin organically. He reveals he spent six of his first seven years in Oman, where his electrician father worked. He went to school in Kincorth – "it wasn't exactly for the privileged", he says, smiling. But he obtained credits in PE, English, Maths, Chemistry and Woodwork. "I'm actually better with my hands than I am with my feet," he adds.

He acknowledges that a young man with time on those hands is apt to formulate pacts with the devil. To that end he has taken his manager's advice and is seeking out a course that will occupy him in his leisure hours. "I don't want to be somebody who's got nothing after football. I need a back-up plan."

Let's talk about Plan A. His stock-in-trade is taking on opponents, right? "It is," he responds. "The pass back is the opt-out clause. If you do that, the team can just get behind the ball and you have to start all over again. Whereas, if you run at people and get past them, you've opened up their defence. Maybe then you give somebody else an opportunity to score."

I point out to him that those opponents, thunder thighs and all, don't half give him stick. He glances at the young lady who is supervising in a PR capacity. "They don't do it intentionally. I know that." I tell him he's kidding me; I've seen the evidence. "Well, I don't think they do. But it's just football, isn't it?"

Fraser comes out of that one smelling of Andersons roses, and the young lady is nodding her head enthusiastically. It is time to test the ego. If he has played well, is he anxious to see the end product himself?

"Oh, no. I hate watching myself on TV. Just hate it. I don't mind [reading] the papers. But just seeing myself, it's not natural, with my shoulders into my head, and my mini legs just going at it."

In actual fact, he is a chunky 5ft 5in of aerodynamics. Whatever, his opponents don't know what he will do next, do they? "But I do. I just don't think about it. I just do what my feet tell me. If it comes off, great. If it doesn't, well, I just try again."

Being fresh out of nappies as a professional footballer, Fraser is obliged to make tea and toast for his masters every morning. Are they hard task masters?

"Well, I'm in the changing room in the morning and all I hear is my name being shouted by Archie [Knox]. I can be anywhere in the club and I hear it, so I need to run my fastest to get their breakfasts. I get stick if I don't. And if I burn the toast, I get made to do it again. Which is pretty much every day."

When he looks at life, does anything intimidate him? "Nothing really scares me, no. I don't find being a teenager difficult at all. Maybe it is for those who are trying to find a job. But you're not going to walk around the corner and get stabbed. That doesn't happen [often] here. Maybe if somebody told me the world was going to end, then I'd be scared."

The frenetic world of Fraser began in earnest just over two years ago when Mark McGhee gave him his debut against Hearts. He was on for 10 minutes. I ask him if he often relives the magic of that experience. "Not really. [Afterwards] I just got a pizza and went home. The best bit about life is getting a Domino's on a Tuesday."

I'm still trying to digest a teenager's logic when he is off and running again. "The next week I played against Hibs – 15 minutes that time. Then I was on the bench for the 9-0 defeat at Celtic Park. That was supposed to be the best experience of my life. It turned out to be the worst. 9-0? I was gutted. I think Jamie Langfield was telling me they [Celtic] had seven shots and scored nine goals. I don't know how that happened. I think there were two own goals. On the bus going home, nobody spoke. It was just a horrible atmosphere to be in.

"But I liked Mark McGhee. A week before he got axed, he said I'd be involved with the first team for the rest of the season. I was buzzing. Then he got chopped and I went back down to the under-19s. I was gutted. I'm glad the gaffer got another job. I thought he was a nice man.

"I used to get a lift in with him in the morning. Well, it wasn't Mark: it was Scott Leitch and Colin Meldrum. I couldn't say 'no' to them because they would have given me a row for being cheeky. So I just sat in the back seat and didn't say anything. I was star struck."

There is no stage fright in the SPL. Neither is there a girlfriend. "I'm not interested at the moment."

His weaknesses are cars and chocolate. "You need to try to eat right, which I don't do. I can eat a giant bag of buttons when I go home. When I went away with Scotland Under 19s, I had to get room service because I didn't like any of the food. I was the only one who was allowed that. I'm getting a sheet about all the healthy foods."

Lifts into Pittodrie are no longer a prerequisite. Fraser, whose all-round sports skills encompass skiing, tennis and golf, passed his driving test first time, after only five lessons. He now drives a Corsa Sri , but admits: "I'm pretty horrific at driving. My parking – I can't do it. It takes me about 10 attempts to get into my drive."

The beguiling smile is back. "I don't really have a temper. I'm calm and collected. People wind me up sometimes, but I just take it as good banter from the lads. Nothing winds me up, unless someone cuts me up on the road. And then it's road rage."

You suspect it is potential crowd rage that makes Craig Brown apprehensive about this scenario. He is nurturing a youngster he likens to Pat Nevin. When he was manager of Clyde, he sold Nevin to Chelsea. "I hope Ryan stays here longer than Pat stayed at Shawfield."

And it is that rather vexatious question about his future I put to young Ryan. His answer provides confirmation of an old head being on young shoulders. "Everybody just gets on with their football at this club. Everybody speaks to each other and there is no talk behind each other's backs. This is a good club to be at if you're young. The experienced lads tell you when you've done well and where you could do better.

"Am I loyal? I hope so. I've still got a lot to learn. I can't say after I've played a handful of games that I've made it. I've nowhere near made it. There are so many things I could do better. Archie and the gaffer can show me."

The learning curve of Ryan Fraser is being appreciated for now. Every Aberdeen fan prays it stays that way.

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