Opinion: Dael Fry has the potential to become Middlesbrough's best academy product

The man currently on loan to Rotherham is highly thought of, both on Teesside and around the country, but can he become Middlesbrough's best home grown talent of the 21st Century?

Opinion: Dael Fry has the potential to become Middlesbrough's best academy product
Dael Fry kept two clean sheets in seven games last season for Middlesbrough | Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty

It has been a busy two seasons for Boro's own Dael Fry.

At seventeen he made his Middlesbrough debut and went on to feature six more times last season, which saw the North East club return to the Premier League at the seventh attempt.

Fry has also captained Middlesbrough's youth team in the UEFA Youth League and has featured for his country at youth level.

Before leaving for Rotherham, Fry extended his stay on Teesside and says he was 'surprised' to be loaned out.

The Football League Paper recently interviewed the 19-year-old centre-half about life on loan at Rotherham and the opportunity he had to train with England's senior squad last week.

Dael Fry (R) was invited to train with England's senior squad by Gareth Southgate | Photo: Getty
Dael Fry (R) was invited to train with England's senior squad by Gareth Southgate | Photo: Getty

There is an optimism about Fry's future and there's no doubting his potential, but could he become Boro's best product from their highly acclaimed youth academy?

Who is his competition?

Some legendary footballers have come through the ranks at Middlesbrough football club, for example, Wilf Mannion, Tony Mowbray and Brian Clough.

Let us, however, just look at the 21st Century for now.

Arguably, Middlesbrough's most successful academy product in the Premier League era is still playing for the club.

Stewart Downing has over 200 Premier League apperances under his belt and has commanded almost £50 million in transfer fees.

Downing was an integral part of Aitor Karanka's Boro side who gained promotion to England's top division in May of this year. He is, therefore, held as a shining beacon and telling of what Middlesbrough's academy can do.

Stewart Downing battles with Sam Byram in Middlesbrough's 1-1 draw with West Ham | Photo: Getty
Stewart Downing battles with Sam Byram in Middlesbrough's 1-1 draw with West Ham | Photo: Getty

A player who was still very talented, but not thought of as highly as Downing, is James Morrison.

Morrison has been playing in the top division for over a decade now, and he came through the academy on Teesside before joining West Brom.

After making over 250 appearences for the Baggies, he has become something of a household name. He is known in the Midlands for being a central midfielder, but he started as a wideman at Middlesbrough.

When part of the youth setup at Middlesbrough, Morrison was teammates with David Wheater and Tony McMahon. They went on to with the FA Youth Cup in 2004,  but were part of Gareth Southgate's side who were relegated five years later.

Other players include Andrew Taylor and Adam Johnson.

Stewart Downing is the player most Boro fans will point to as the side's best player to come through the academy in recent times.

If Dael Fry is to become Boro's best homegrown player, he may have to challange a player already in the Middlesbrough squad.

A battle of the centre backs?

While Dael Fry did train with England's first team squad, there have been calls for Ben Gibson to be called up to the national team.

Ben Gibson scored Boro's consellation goal as they lost 2-1 to Spurs in the most recent Riverside match | Photo: Getty
Ben Gibson scores Boro's only goal as they lost 2-1 to Spurs in the most recent Riverside match | Photo: Getty

Gibson, who was praised by the then-England boss Sam Allardyce and was reportedly going to be 'fast tracked' into the squad.

Since then, Allardyce has left the setup, and the caretaker boss - former Middlesbrough centre-half - Gareth Southgate included Burnley's Michael Keane in his England squad for the games against Malta and Slovenia, although he did not play a minute.

Ben Gibson, who - like Fry - has represented England on every level from Under 17s to Under 21s, was brought into the Boro squad by Tony Mowbray who had loaned him out to Plymouth, York and Tranmere.

When Aitor Karanka took over from Mowbray, he brought Gibson more into his starting eleven.

A severe injury to Karanka's then-captain Rhys Williams may have helped the Nunthorpe-born stopper get his chance.

Ben Gibson, however, has taken everything in his stride and now with his hometown side in the Premier League, he is starting centre back and even captained the side against West Brom.

Aitor Karanka has more faith in Gibson, who has more experience than Fry, but Fry is starting off his career in the Championship - compared to Gibson who learnt his trade in England's lower tiers.

At this point in time, Gibson is a better player than Fry, but the man currently at Rotherham is four years Gibson's junior, so he has plenty of time to show his potential.

Other stars currently in Boro's youth setup?

The future, however, does look bright for Boro. Fry could soon become a starter for the Teessiders and a homegrown duo at centre back is an appealing thought for any fan.

Middlesbrough do not, however, have just these two players to consider for the future.

Winger Harry Chapman is on loan to Sheffield United currently, and he is hoped to follow in the footsteps of fellow winger Stewart Downing.

Chapman has been involved in three England matches, this friendly vs Brazil, his first for the U21s | Photo Getty
Chapman has been involved in three England matches, this friendly vs Brazil, his first for the U21s | Photo Getty

While not from England, Austrian born forward Arnel Jakupovic is in red hot form for Middlesbrough's under 19s. He also scored for Austria U19s in the recent international break.

Two youth stars in Mitchell Curry and Ben Liddle have today signed their first professional deals for Middlesbrough. This follows Marcus Tavernier's signing last week.