The Middesbrough academy has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately.
Once the breeding ground for a plethora of England internationals, including Jonathan Woodgate and Stewart Downing, the academy suffered a bit of a barren period - but appears to be back up and running.
One of the latest talents off the Boro production line to catch the attention of Premier League clubs is Dael Fry. The 22-year-old has been a regular in the Boro starting XI for the past two season - already clocking up over 100 senior appearances.
Since his promotion to the first team in 2015, Fry has worked under some of the most defensively astute managers in the game - including Tony Pulis and Aitor Karanka - and that experience has proved to be invaluable in his development.
With a handful of Premier League vultures beginning to circle the Riverside, it may not be too long before Fry is mixing it among England’s elite. Here’s 90min's rundown of everything you need to know about the England Under-21 star.
Career Thus Far
Fry broke into the Boro first-team set-up at the age of just 18.
Under the stewardship of Middlesbrough’s greatest ever defensive manager, Karanka, the youngster was offered a glimpse of first-team life in Boro’s promotion season of 2015/16, though his fleeting appearances proved he wasn’t developed enough to cope with the strains of Championship life.
Having been promoted to the Premier League, the following season Fry wasn’t afforded a single appearance in England’s top league - with stalwarts Daniel Ayala and fellow-Boro lad Ben Gibson the preferred centre-back partnership.
However, once Boro had been relegated and Gibson moved on to Burnley a year later, Fry was given his chance and he took it with both hands. The youngster has been at the heart of the Boro defence ever since.
His evident talent hasn’t failed to be recognised at international level, having been capped by every England age group from the Under-17s to the Under-21s. His international career has already gleaned silverware, having been an integral part of the victorious Under-20 World Cup squad in 2017.
What Are His Strengths?
Composed in possession and not afraid to step into midfield when the chance presents itself, the 22-year-old displays a maturity ahead of his years.
His reading of the game has improved massively since settling in the Boro first team. Fry is evidently a player who thrives off the confidence of his manager - since Pulis made him a first-team regular in 2018, the young defender has come on leaps and bounds.
His slender frame means he possesses a good turn of speed and he has occasionally be known to fill in at right-back when needed.
What Are His Weaknesses?
When Fry burst onto the scene at just 18, many in the Boro academy were talking about him as the most exciting prospect ever to graduate. He shared many of the same attributes as Gibson (who graduated a few years prior) only better. All he needed to do was develop physically – unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened.
At 22, Fry is aesthetically similar to the youngster who broke into the first team at 18. He hasn’t developed like the Boro coaching staff had hoped, and because of that he is often bullied in the Championship.
Another aspect of Fry’s game which needs improvement if he is to make it to the top is his concentration. While his reading of the game is good, every now and again he switches off and his lack of discipline can often lead to conceding penalties.
Who Would You Compare Him With?
Fry has been compared to former teammate Gibson his whole career – not words any prospective buyer will long to hear now that Gibson is rotting on the Burnley bench. But fear not, the comparison is purely down to coincidence of age and birthplace. The two have little in common.
It may seem a lazy comparison, but Fry is very much in the mould of John Stones. Both developed in the Championship, and in all honesty, both struggled with the physicality of the league at times. Despite it becoming fashionable to laugh at Stones, few remember the prestigious talent that shone at Goodison Park for three seasons.
Were Stones to eradicate the simple mistakes from his game, he could go right to the top; and Fry is of a similar ilk. Both possess a composure and an ability to take charge of a situation, as well as being quick across the ground.
Which Club Would He Best Be Suited at?
Should Boro decide to cash in on their prized asset this summer, the youngster won’t be short of suitors and so he will need to think long and hard about his move. Former role-model Gibson is testament to the fact the wrong move can have a hugely damaging effect on your career.
Throughout the whole of his time in the first-team, Fry has played alongside a commanding senior figure in Ayala. When the Spaniard isn’t fit, Fry’s performance suffers - he needs an organiser alongside him.
His main strength is his ability on the ball, so there’s no use him signing for a club whose ethos is to pump it up to the forwards as soon as possible – Fry’s capability in starting attacks is a big part of his game.
With Newcastle said to have been monitoring the youngster for some time, should they choose to ditch Steve Bruce and (as expected) appoint a boss with a more footballing philosophy, a partnership with Jamaal Lascelles could prove to be a shrewd move by the Tynesiders.
Source : 90min