Kerim Frei made his full Premier League debut on Boxing Day but his talents are already well-known amongst Fulham fans.
Early signs suggest that Frei has the ability to not only establish himself in the Fulham first team but to become the star player in the starting eleven. With a keen left foot and great pace, the 18-year-old can make the left flank his own. But perhaps the most enthralling aspect of the youngster is his capability to take on players, offer a few nimble tricks in order to confuse them and then skip past with extraordinary ease.
Frei is aided by a strong personality and immense self-confidence. He is not easily perturbed and doesn’t give up easily. Against Chelsea, even when he overplayed and lost the ball, it simply made him more determined to succeed the following time. He rattled the experienced Jose Boswinga, even earning the Portuguese a booking after a particularly crude challenge after Frei had surpassed him.
The Austrian, who has a Turkish father and Moroccan mother and has chosen to represent Turkey in international football, has had surprisingly little game time up until now but shone earlier in the season in a Carling Cup tie, again against Chelsea. And his most notable contribution came in the recent Europa League group game at home to Odense, when he set-up one goal and scored another.
On that occasion, he was given corner and dead ball duties and didn’t disappoint: all were whipped in with considerable pace and caused problems for the defence. For Fulham’s opening goal, Frei battled hard on the left-wing before delivering a precise ball into Bobby Zamora who in turn provided for Clint Dempsey. His first senior Fulham goal was taken with aplomb after he had made a clever run in between the central defenders, beating the offside trap before tucking the ball under the goalkeeper.
The broad smile on his face after having scored reflected his joy at such a considerable contribution. Frei joined Fulham just six months ago as a trainee from Swiss outfit Grasshopper but has immediately risen out of the youth ranks and will likely soon become a regular in the first team. He has gained experienced and maturity across the seven Europa League matches he has been involved in, alongside the two games against Chelsea, in which manager Martin Jol has deployed him to good use.
With such a diverse background, Turks will be delighted that Frei will, eventually, represent them at senior level because as things stand, they have a player scintillatingly similar to the terrific talents of Arda Turan, another left-winger who has made it big and currently stars at Atletico Madrid. Turan, though just 24, is more than six years Frei’s senior and will act as a role model for the allievo.
Frei’s immense start to Premier League life has lifted Fulham supporters and all signs point towards a successful career in England. A warning however: many youngsters have let early praise get to their heads and subsequently lost their way. Frei’s character means he will enjoy the compliments but will likely recognise that his talents still need to be honed and a lot of hard work lies in wait.
But should his development programme at Fulham come to fruition, it seems inevitable that Frei will finish on an even higher branch of the footballing tree.