Ryan Fraser’s potential has long been clear but the Bournemouth winger is now fulfilling it. With the help of another former Aberdeen and Scotland player Charlie Nicholas, Adam Bate examines why Fraser has become such a key figure for the Cherries…
Ryan Fraser's claim that he is looking to Eden Hazard for inspiration might have seemed a bit optimistic to some. And yet, it was not long after that comment earlier this season that he was charging into the Leicester penalty box, cutting inside onto his favoured right foot and curling a low shot into the corner of the net beyond goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
There were shades of Hazard that day and Fraser has certainly kicked on this season. He has three goals and two assists so far - already matching his total for the second half of last season. Fraser's ability to provide pace out wide was never in doubt. But the 24-year-old Scotland international is now starting to influence games on a regular basis.
As a fellow former Aberdeen player, Fraser's compatriot Charlie Nicholas has followed his career since he was a teenager and has been impressed by the changes that the young Bournemouth winger has made to his game - both on and off the field.
"It took him a bit of time adjusting to the south but he has come on an absolute treat," Nicholas tells Sky Sports. "There was an interview with him on Soccer Saturday just a few weeks ago and he was talking about moving into his own place, having to cook for himself and just learning how it is to be a modern day player.
"These things are important, but what I like is that he is a little pocket dynamo. He is quite an old-fashioned type of player - what we used to call a tanner ba' - from the days when Scottish players were very popular. He has a little bit of that. He has obviously put a lot of muscle on and built himself up to be able to take the knocks and kicks that come his way."
Those street footballer instincts remain but the diminutive Scot is beginning to add new facets to his game too. As a right-footer playing on the left, he has the option of beating his marker on the inside or the outside, but with 18 per cent of his touches coming in the middle third of the pitch - more than last season - he is roaming more than before too.
When he gets the ball and is allowed to run at people and be expressive, that is when he is at his finest.
"I have liked what Eddie Howe has done with him," says Nicholas. "He's not said to stay wide left or wide right. He's said he can come through the middle to support Callum Wilson or Josh King or whoever is playing. He is allowed to go wherever he wants if he thinks he can influence the game. That is how we have seen him score a few goals already this season."
It is working so far, not just in terms of Fraser's goal return but his improved creativity. According to Opta, he has already created six big chances for team-mates this season. That is twice as many as he created last season. It is also two more than any other player in the Premier League so far this season.
For Nicholas, it adds to the frustration that Fraser was asked to play at right wing-back in Scotland's 4-0 defeat to Belgium last month. Rather than emulating Hazard at the other end of the pitch, he found himself being asked to track him instead. "He doesn't understand that side of the game," explains Nicholas.
"What he does understand is when he gets the ball and is allowed to run at people and be expressive. That is when he is at his finest. It is nice to see a Scot with this kind of creative, natural talent that we don't obviously have enough of at international level.
"Looking at what we have in the national team, we have to find a place for him. I would play him just behind the striker. That is where he could become a strong player for Scotland. We don't have enough dynamic players with that creative spark and he fits that criteria.
"But I am very encouraged by what I have seen with his transformation and how popular he has become in the Bournemouth team. It is nothing but positive for me when I look at him. He has bundles of energy and I really enjoy watching him."
Watch Ryan Fraser in action for Bournemouth against Crystal Palace live on Monday Night Football from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League