So when the time came for a local player to receive an opportunity to play high-level soccer in Spain with the potential to launch a professional European career, well, it didn’t take long for Bijelic to figure out who would be a perfect fit.
And with that, Fraser, 17, is about to have the opportunity of a lifetime.
The Central Collegiate product is planning to head overseas this fall to join UD Montijo Academy, a feeder program for the Royal Spanish Football Federation third division squad, with the goal of eventually signing a professional contract and making the game a career.
“It’d say it’s pretty crazy and a huge opportunity for myself and other kids my age, knowing that I was able to go over there and play soccer at that level,” Fraser said. “Hopefully it puts some hope in their eyes that they can go someday.”
The whole thing is still settling in for the Moose Jaw Soccer Association standout, and Fraser is the first to admit that what his future could hold is mind-boggling.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” he said. “Seeing that they’re building a program around young players and getting them prepared for the professional level and eventually selling them to a professional team, it’s exciting. There are nights I can’t even sleep because all I can think about are scenarios that could happen.”
So what’s all the excitement about? Let’s start at the beginning.
Bijelic recently signed on as the Canadian representative for the Chile-based Newen Sports agency. Newen holds a stake in the UD Montijo second team, which is used to produce players for their main squad, much like you’d see with high-level teams and the like in other major soccer programs.
When it came time to look for players from this part of the world to join Montijo Academy -- located in the city of Badajoz, Spain in the heart of the Iberian peninsula, kilometres from the border with Portugal -- Bijelic started right here at home.
“The first parents and players I contacted were from my team and I know how much time Jace has invested in his life in soccer and everything else in the sport, I coached him for four or five years and I know he’s a talent,” he said. “What it comes down to is who wants to play when they’re 17, 18 and just go to school and who wants more... Jace wants more and he’s going to get that chance.”
What Fraser is about to wade into is something akin to what a Major Junior hockey player would find upon first arriving at their new team -- a world dedicated to the sport he’s about to play, with the sole focus on advancing players to the next level of the game.
“As soon as they get there, they’re going to be playing on the ‘B’ team, and right away they’re going to be playing in a league,” Bijelic said. “They’re not going to just kick the ball around, they’re going to be playing games and completely involved in their program… they’ll be practicing six times a week, two or three times a day, and practicing with the ‘A’ team as well.
“So the coaches will be watching them all the time, and if they’re showing well, they might even get a chance to move up to the first team. They might even be able to sign a contract… it’s just a great opportunity for any player from this part of the world.”
Bijelic maintains that Saskatchewan has a tremendous amount of untapped soccer talent that could find a home overseas if they were just given the chance. Fraser will be the trailblazer, and ideally just the first.
Even if it does take a bit of time to truly get used to the idea.
“When (Alex) first told me about it, I kind of thought he just joking around it was so much on the crazy side, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan to Spain?” Fraser said with a laugh. “As if you have an offer like that for me. It was more shock and disbelief at the time, but here we are now.”
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time until he heads over in the fall, which means more time to bone up on his Spanish and prepare mentally for what he’s about to experience.
“It’s definitely going to be a little hectic to start off, but once I get into a routine I’ll settle into it and it’ll become a lot less stressful on me,” Fraser said. “It’ll be a lot of fun, but it’ll also be difficult because I’ve never played anybody outside of Canada before, it’s a whole different game from Spanish soccer to Canadian soccer.”
Bijleic doesn’t see that as being too much of a problem for his young protege.
“What I’ve seen from the team on Youtube, they have a lot of talent and can play really well,” said Bijelic, who stressed that Fraser has reached the point in his game that even a high-level coach such as himself can’t really help him any more.
“This is literally the door to professional soccer, so all they have to do is work hard and do what they can to get it… Jace 100 per cent has the talent for that and now he needs to get ready with them, not with us local coaches here. He’s a great kid, he’s going to listen and get feedback and learn, and now he needs to leave if he wants to do something in the game.”
Fraser is more than aware there will be some adjustments to make, beginning with the culture shock of entering a world that lives, eats and breathes soccer.
“It’s definitely going to be scary at first because everyone is going to be watching since it’s one of the only things to watch,” he said. “Everyone is so passionate about it like it is here with hockey, instead of angry hockey moms it’s going to be angry soccer moms… and I’m moving halfway across the world to a whole different country, different language and culture and everything like that, so it’s going to be intimidating.”
But the potential. Oh, the potential.
Coming home with a professional contract in hand and preparing for a career overseas would make every second all worthwhile.
“It would be a dream come true,” Fraser said. “Coming home to collect my stuff and move back and seeing all the smiling faces and everyone be so happy for me… it would be amazing.”