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SWINDON TOWN: Red heart, blue head - the split loyalties of Chelsea's Jimmy Fraser
JIM Fraser is stuck in a moral quandary.
The former Swindon Town centre of excellence coach turned top dog at Chelsea’s sparkling academy is torn between the two sides when it comes to tonight’s Capital One Cup extravaganza at the County Ground.
For eight years the ex-Robins apprentice taught the next generation of Swindon stars the tricks of the trade, honing the skills of modern first-teamers Nathan and Louis Thompson, Aaron Oakley and Leigh Bedwell and putting in the groundwork which has made the club’s youth development system one of the most revered in the lower leagues.
When he moved to Chelsea in 2004 he took a lifetime’s association with the Robins with him to west London. His heart still bleeds red, but this evening a part of him is thinking blue.
Speaking to the Advertiser from his base in Weybridge, Fraser happily remembered his time in Wiltshire, where his career accelerated at an absurd rate.
“I was there as a player from the under 12s and was part of the club when we were promoted to the Premier League in 93, so I would have been there the last time Swindon played Chelsea,” he said.
“I was not offered a pro contract by Swindon but I got an opportunity at Portsmouth but once that contract was up I was offered an extension.
“Back then Jon Holloway was working in the centre of excellence at Swindon and I was looking for work. I got a chance to come back and coach, and I was playing semi-professional football as well at the time.
“I came in as the assistant to Phil Cannon in 1999 or 2000 and was taking charge of the under 11s. I remember taking Theo Walcott in his first session as a Swindon Town player way back then as well.
“When I got the opportunity to take over full-time it was unbelievable. First off it was under people like Roy Evans and Neil Ruddock, and I was able to play as well as keep my coaching job, but when Andy King came back he asked me to stay on full-time but I had to give up playing football.
“I was only 24 and playing football was all I had known to that point, and there was this great opportunity but to be able to do it I had to stop playing. It was the right decision.
“I was there for eight years and enjoyed every minute.
“When I was there the Thompson brothers were going through the age groups, and it’s great to see that both of them will probably be involved against Chelsea.
“Louis Thompson, Aaron Oakley and Leigh Bedwell were all under nines when I left, so it’s amazing to see how well they’ve all come on.”
Fraser’s move to Chelsea came through a chance friendly, requested by the Premier League side, around a decade ago.
“We had the chance to play Chelsea, as they wanted a friendly for some of the younger players and at the time we had a good crop of youngsters ourselves - Justyn McKay, Leigh Henry, Ashan Holgate and the like,” he said.
“Soon after one of the coaches at Chelsea told me that there were a few openings coming up at the club and asked if I would be interested.
“I went up to see them and was offered the job within a week of meeting them.”
Quickly this kid from Swindon was stepping up the ladder at one of the fastest-growing footballing brands in the world.
Now he is assistant manager to Neil Bath in the Chelsea academy, meaning he is in the privileged but demanding position of travelling the globe ensuring a steady stream of top-quality talent rotates through the club’s youth set-up.
“Now I oversee the development of all our younger players, I manage the coaches of the 12 to 14 year olds and it’s a great job,” he said.
“I can be anywhere in the world one day and somewhere else the next. There’s an under 15 tournament in Warwick at the weekend, where the likes of Real Madrid will be playing, and then in a fortnight I’m off to Dubai for the under 17 World Cup.
“I’ve just come back from the Milk Cup, which was always the big one for Swindon. I remember having to be involved in fundraising for that constantly and it seems like that is still the case, which is a shame. You’d have thought the club would be able to pay for that by now.”
Despite all he has achieved, Fraser still has his roots in Swindon, and this evening presents a tricky equation for a man whose employer is making the trip to his boyhood club.
“I loved working at Swindon. It was a brilliant experience. This game is a hard one for me,” he said.
“I work for Chelsea and hopefully in this game some of the younger players we have brought through will be involved, so obviously I want to see them do well.
“I’d like to see Chelsea win but I don’t really want Swindon to lose, I’m sitting heavily on the fence here.
“I want to see a good game. Swindon is in my heart but my head is with Chelsea, that’s where my job is.
“I’ve watched Swindon a little bit this season and they’re playing some good stuff, so it should be a good game.”
You can’t fault Fraser for his fence-sitting, although Chelsea’s manager - Jose Mourinho - might.
Very few individuals in the football world have had the chance to work first-hand with the Special One. Fraser is one of a lucky few and he speaks incredibly highly of the Portuguese.
“Jose does his best to work with us to help bring through the best young talent for the club and for the national team,” he said.
“I knew him from before when I first joined and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. He’ll often meet with Neil and comes over to watch training regularly as well.
“He’s a fantastic manager and a character as well.”
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