In day-to-day life, most of us know to be wary of small dogs. On the football pitch, however, unless your name is Lionel Messi, being small often sees a player underestimated by his opponents.
During the international break, for example, we saw a bizarre effort at mind games from USA defender Matt Miazga.
After a coming-together with Mexico’s Diego Lainez, the centre-back went with the superliminal approach to taunting his opponent.
It was as if he was told to “wind him up but really subtly,” only to ignore the second part of the instruction.
It was funny in a “wait, is he actually doing this?” way, but football has taught us to write off shorter players at our peril.
The low centre-of-gravity and distinct running styles of shorter players has an almost canine element to it.
It might be easy to make a ‘terrier nipping at the heels’ comparison with someone like Dennis Wise, a player known in his time for fronting up to less vertically challenged players, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
Indeed, he seemed at times to almost make himself smaller in an effort to achieve… something, probably. The same goes for Jack Wilshere, surely football’s closest analogue to Scrappy-Doo.
Similarly, River Plate alumni and one-time ‘new Maradonas’ Pablo Aimar and Andrés d’Alessandro can be likened more to spaniels, full of elegance and reserve most of the time but capable of the loudest of barks when they want to be noticed.
Of course, while the most dangerous dogs are often the most unassuming, an even bigger test is provided by those who let you know exactly what to expect from them and still leave you exasperated.
Is it obvious I’m gearing up to a conversation about Ryan Fraser? Well, just because you know what’s coming doesn’t mean its impact will be at all lessened.
After meeting his mascot from Bmth Rfc’s u13s.. Ryan Fraser became a goal machine.. some would suggest it was the introduction of growth hormones. pic.twitter.com/ttxuTzX6dt
— james mills (@millsybrfc) September 16, 2018
Fraser is that most common of dogs, the yappy attention-seeker who won’t get out of your face. Simultaneously making no effort to hide his intentions and almost daring you to stand in the way of them.
We saw this in the Scot’s display for Bournemouth against Leicester City, a match-winning performance featuring two goals and an assist.
For his first goal, as he collects the ball with a well-timed run down the middle, we can see Fraser with one eye on the inevitable end result, but the other is firmly on how he will do as much as he can to make the Leicester defenders feel they have a chance.
By covering less ground with each step, the 5’4” winger convinces Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire that they can both amble back to cover, cutting off Fraser’s angle.
Yet, somehow – seemingly via a trick of mental manipulation – they are encouraged to keep tracking back, failing to offer any kind of challenge until it’s much too late.
Fraser has given them puppy eyes with his feet, imploring them to let him keep at it to the point where they have become detached from the fact that there’s a football match going on around them.
Morgan and Maguire simultaneously know they have nothing and everything under control, to the point where the eventual effort at blocking the shot is a thing of comedy.
Fraser has somehow pulled the rug out from under them seconds after inviting them to step onto the rug to see how it feels under their feet.
Coming up against someone like Fraser, all puffed-out cheeks and legs over-rotating like go-kart wheels, seems to bring out the worst in otherwise sensible and logical footballers.
It’s as if a fear of being shown up by someone of his stature is enough for them to abandon their normal game and wind up falling for the exact thing they set out to avoid, purely by taking something into their own hands which was never there to be taken.
This is surely what happened for one of Fraser’s first Premier League goals, in a 3-3 draw with Arsenal.
Héctor Bellerín’s pursuit ended with the right-back nudged off balance amid an insistence he would not be outmuscled by the smaller man, before Petr Čech – determined not to be embarrassed – ended up sat down both literally and figuratively.
It was akin to a chess player, sidetracked by his efforts to avoid falling into a complex trap, allowing his queen to be taken by an opponent’s pawn.
Fraser’s task may have been made easier, but he still needed to be prepared for the scenario in order to take advantage.
Fraser’s second against Leicester was more of the same, with Maguire once again left helpless by his diminutive opponent.
The England defender has the helpless exasperation of a dog owner scrambling for a lead, having tricked himself into thinking he could let his guard down for a second. As he chases back, he knows the fate of the ball is out of his own hands and the most he can do is get close enough to mop up if the chance presents itself.
If he was able to address Fraser head-on, he might have been able to counter his opponent. However, when tasked with giving pursuit, there’s only one winner.
In basing his game around running his rivals ragged, Fraser has a kind of unpredictability that no defender ever wants to come up against, allowing Bournemouth to pick holes in superficially solid defences like a puppy navigating its way through dense woodland by smell alone.
As long as he continues to mark his territory with goals, as opposed to taking the metaphor too literally, Bournemouth’s fans won’t have too many complaints.
By Tom Victor