Valour FC coach Rob Gale didn’t need to spend a minute scouting his latest signing before adding him to his roster.
The Winnipeg-based outfit added Canadian international Fraser Aird to its ranks on Friday, bringing on board an experienced and versatile player, still only 24, who has spent the last nine years in Europe, apart from a short loan to the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016.
Aird is a player Gale knows quite well, and for quite some time. This is how the two first met and formed a connection that would see them reunite in Winnipeg years later.
“Fraser is someone I’ve known since he was 14 years old and playing for the Ontario provincial team,” Gale recounted to CanPL.ca. “He was by far the player of the tournament back then and there were all kinds of rumours about where he was going to play. He went off to Rangers soon after playing in that tournament, and Glasgow Rangers, as they are becoming again now; at the time they were such a big club with European pedigree. For a young Canadian boy, at that time, to go there, was really unique.”
Playing for Rangers, as Gale explained, spoke to the quality of the versatile man, who could play as a No. 10, a No. 7, or a midfielder, as required. Gale describes Aird as a “terrific all-around footballer” and, as such, it’s no surprise that he attracted the attention of the Scotland U-17 and U-18 teams.
Gale continued: “When I became the (Canadian) under-20 coach, I had stayed in touch with Fraser over that time and always followed his pathway, but it was a huge push for us to try and bring him back into the Canadian lineup.
“I was fortunate that he agreed to come into a camp and experience it in Florida, in December just before our U-20 World Cup qualifying campaign. We got to know each other more, and I saw him train and play and what I really like about him, you can see what a professional he is in the training field. He’s a player that’s been away in that field for four, five years, and he’s brought that level of professionalism and quality to training on a day-to-day basis.”
As Aird made his way up the Canadian youth ranks through stellar showings in training, Gale knew he had a true talent on his hands.
“Well, Rangers ruled him out of coming to World Cup qualifying,” Gale lamented. “A new coach came in and didn’t allow him to play, which was a shame. We were disappointed, and it affected us for World Cup qualifying, losing a player of that calibre. It was a loss to the Canadian group, but in the bigger picture, he got back into the Canadian national team fold and was called up to senior camps since then.”
“He’s played as a fullback, but I view it a bit like Mike Petrasso; the boy that I knew and the talent I know he has, he has a lot more to offer in the North American market than just being a fullback or a utility player,” Gale added. “He has the quality of football and character and personality to dominate a game here and be a big influence.”
In the years since, Aird went on to make 62 appearances for Rangers, before going on stints at Falkirk, Dunfermline Athletic, Dundee United, and, most recently, Cove Rangers.
And, speaking of recently, Aird made headlines for his unceremonious exit from Cove Rangers, where he was caught making an obscene gesture toward Celtic fans during a match against the Scottish side.
For his part, Aird addressed the incident to Valour FC’s Ed Tait, explaining that, as “a lifelong (Glasgow) Rangers fan,” well … “the emotions get to you.”
Fair enough. Gale isn’t trying to strip Aird of that passion, in the slightest. But he is hoping to rejuvenate the talented 24-year-old, especially in the wake of Petrasso’s departure to York9 FC.
“Fraser is going to be a leader. He’s got the experience,” Gale affirmed. “From 17 years old, he’s played in front of crowds of 50,000 people. He’s played in front of crowds in one game that collectively we don’t have. I’m expecting him to bring that quality.
“But, first and foremost, knowing the lad, we want to put a smile back on his face. We want him to enjoy his football. He’s been overlooked in a couple areas, or mismanaged maybe, and even as early as a year, he’s scoring goals for Dundee United in the Scotland Premier League. He’s got undoubted talent, and we want him to enjoy his football again.
“I know him. I trust him. We have a really good working relationship and I know what he can bring to the table. I want to see him translate that to the field and lead by example, and really catapult himself and show everyone what Fraser Aird is all about.”