No Tottenham Hotspur player is looking forward to their game at Old Trafford more than Zeki Fryers. Everyone wants to play at Manchester United, of course, but not many have left the club as a teenager, against the wishes of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fryers' journey, from United to Tottenham, by way of Standard Liège, is one of the more controversial transfer moves of recent years. Ferguson accused Tottenham of "blatant manipulation" when they signed Fryers, but the young full-back is delighted with how his move turned out.
"A lot of people say that when you leave Man United you go down," admitted Fryers (left), speaking after his first Premier League start, against Stoke City on Sunday. "But for me, I feel like I have gone up, in terms of my development."
It has been an unusual few years for Fryers, 21. He was part of United's FA Youth Cup-winning side in 2011, although, like team-mates Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba, he has since left Old Trafford. During the following season he did begin to break into United's first team, starting twice in the League Cup and making four other substitute appearances. But, by the summer of 2012, he could not agree a new deal and left.
Spurs naturally wanted to sign Fryers and he even trained with them and went on a pre-season tour to Portugal. But they could not agree compensation with United – who wanted £6m – and so they could not sign him. Fryers, rather unusually, moved to Standard Liège in Belgium instead, for less than £1m in compensation. He played seven games for them before, in January 2013, joining Tottenham for £3m after all. The official line, from Liège and Tottenham, was that Fryers had become homesick.
Ferguson was livid, suggesting that Fryers and Spurs had engineered the brief move to Liège to avoid paying United the full compensation. "I am disappointed in Tottenham," the then manager said. "I think it is blatant manipulation of the situation. The league should look into it and I think they should stop his registration until they examine it."
If there is still a sour taste at United over the incident, Fryers is not worried, and insists that he did everything for the right reasons. "There were always going to be accusations, obviously," he said, during an explanation of why he moved to Liège and then quickly on to London.
"I wanted a new adventure, really. There were certain things there that didn't fall my way. And I thought it was time to move on. I felt that I wanted to be more regularly involved around the first team.
"I wanted to go abroad to further my career. Most foreign players come to England to play, but it's rare that English people go abroad to play. So I thought I was going to go and try something new. I enjoyed it, it was a great experience."
The Under-21 coaches at Spurs – who are now running the first-team – were one of the main attractions for Fryers. "Come January , there were a few options. Spurs was the best for my improvement and development because of the staff there, such as Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand. They are great coaches, they did a lot of work with me."
Fryers is already grateful to Sherwood, Ferdinand and Ramsey, and is delighted by the prospect of more first-team opportunities. "They helped me improve my game. They helped me get forward more, introducing something new to my game, becoming more of a modern full-back. Tim chats to you individually, he's honest, and honesty is the main thing you need."
Andre Villas-Boas gave Fryers five starts this season, in the Europa League and Capital One Cup, and under Sherwood he started his first Premier League game at the weekend. "It's a great feeling, if I can get opportunities and play well then anything can happen."
So Fryers feels that, having finally kicked off his Premier League career, he can prove a point at Old Trafford this afternoon. "Obviously, that would cross your mind. You want to start, especially against big teams like Man United. I'd love to start against my old club."Reuse content