Would he play for Canada or Scotland?
For the longest time, that was the question surrounding Toronto-born Fraser Aird, a 20-year old winger with Scottish club Rangers.
One of this country’s brightest soccer prospects (he signed with Rangers at 16), Aird was part of a Canadian under-15 camp in 2010 and played in a U-15 friendly against the U.S. But he also represented Scotland (he qualifies through his parents) at the under-17 level in 2011, and went on to play for the Scottish under-19 side.
When he turned down a call up to play for Canada’s senior team at the 2013 Gold Cup, it looked as though he decided to pledge his international allegiance to Scotland.
But then he accepted an invite to participate in a Canadian under-20 training camp in 2014, and the tide turned in Canada’s favour. Then last week, Aird was named to the Canadian senior team roster for next week’s friendly against Ghana in Washington, D.C.
Aird is currently with the Canadian team in Florida where they are training ahead of the Ghana match. Sportsnet chatted one-on-one with Aird about playing for Canada and how he came to the decision.
This is your first Canadian senior team camp. What kind of reception have you received from your new teammates?
Really good. All the boys introduced themselves to me on the first day. I’m still trying to remember most of their names. [laughs] No, but all of the boys have been great, and we all know we’re here for the same reason, to represent our country. Hopefully, I can be a teammate of theirs for years to come, so I’m really looking forward to working with them.
Do you know anybody on the team?
I know a few boys, and some I just know their names. Junior (Hoilett) I know, obviously, from playing in England. Same with Simeon Jackson. I know David Edgar; we’ve spoken before. And I know a few of the young guys who I was with during a youth team camp a few years ago. All the other guys I’m meeting for the first time.
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How did you make up your mind to play for Canada rather than Scotland?
I was born in Canada, and I’m Canadian. I grew up for 16 years of my life in Canada. I have Scottish parents and Scottish grandparents, but they decided to move to Canada and have been living there for 20 years, so they’re Canadian, too.
I did have that choice [to play for Scotland] and it was tough, but I just thought that maybe I had a better chance to play for Canada—making more appearances and getting into the first team quicker. Hopefully this is my foot in the door, and I can establish myself and do well enough for Canada that I can contribute for years to come.
What role, if any did coach Benito Floro and/or Canada Soccer play in helping you make your decision?
It was actually [assistant coach] Michael Findlay who spoke to me a few times, and spoke to my dad, when I was making my decision. He put it out there that Canada wanted me to play for them, and that the team was looking to move forward, and obviously qualify for the World Cup. He said they had big plans for the young players, so I was keen and happy to hear about that. I had already made up my own mind that I wanted to play for Canada, but that certainly helped.
Did you consult with anybody else?
Not really, it was pretty much all on my own. [Former interim Canadian coach] Colin Miller called me up for the 2013 Gold Cup but I wasn’t really set on who I wanted to play for at the time. But as more time went by I realized I should make my decision sooner rather than later, so I can have a better chance of playing for my country longer.
People are going to look at your situation and say, “Wow, he sure took his time in deciding.” Any regrets about not making up your mind earlier?
I’m 20 now, and I guess you could say I’m a young boy, but as you know football is such a short career, and I really didn’t want to waste any more time. I wanted to make my decision and focus on that one decision, so I wasn’t jumping back and forth between the two. I just thought if I made my decision that hopefully I could get a call up and become a Canadian international as soon as possible, and then continue that and have a good career with Canada.
What’s the reaction been like in Scotland? Has there been any backlash?
Nah, not really. They knew I was born in Canada and that I was only eligible to play for them through my parents. Once they saw I was called into this camp they knew that I made up my mind. And that was that, really.
What did Rangers manager Mark Warburton say to you about your decision?
He was delighted. Mark only recently came to Rangers but I had conversations with my former manager Ally McCoist last year and he was actually keen on me to play for Canada if that was my decision. He played for Scotland so obviously his loyalty was to them, but he told me whatever decision I made would be my choice and he’d support me in whatever I would do. He was happy for me to play for Canada. He was supportive and Mark was supportive this year with me going away with Canada. He knows that it’s a good experience for me and that it can only make me better as a player at club level.
You could make your Canada debut against Ghana next week. Then there’s an important World Cup qualifier in November against Honduras in Vancouver. Are you nervous?
I’m looking forward to it! I’ve always wanted to play on the international stage and there’s no better way to start it with a good tough game against Ghana. I’m hoping to get some minutes and do well enough that Benito includes me in the squad for November.
How closely have you been following Canada’s performances and results this year?
Very closely. I watch the games when I can—the time difference can be a bit of a nightmare at times—but when I can’t watch I read all the news stories I can.