herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Fagan taking spanish steps

THEY'RE named after the same saint, they both left Manchester United and ended up in Spain with clubs who are currently going through a hard time.

That's about all that Cristiano Ronaldo and Chris Fagan have in common, though.

"We're on different planets, his is a different world to mine," says Dubliner Fagan, an Ireland U21 cap who has found himself playing in the lower leagues of Spain with Jerez Industrial -- via a spell in England's fourth tier -- after leaving Manchester United two years ago.



another world

"I know we're both in Spain. Madrid is about six or seven hours up the road from me here in Jerez, but Ronaldo may as well be in another world from me, even though we were at United for a couple of years together.

"I trained with the first team a good few times but would only have known Ronaldo to say 'hello' to, not much more than that, so I won't be calling him up or going for a visit now that I'm here in Spain as well. Real Madrid to my club here in Jerez is about as big a gap as you can get in football, but I'm happy to be here for now," Fagan told the Evening Herald.

Ronaldo achieved the dream of a lifetime when he signed for Real Madrid from United last year. Fair to say, then, that when Fagan was growing up in Dublin he never dreamed about playing in Segunda Division B, G4, one of the divisions in Spain's confusing lower league system, for Jerez Industrial Club de Fútbol. But that's where the 20-year-old forward found himself, very much by accident.

Manchester United let him go in the summer of 2008, after a three-year stint at the academy which also saw him make a number of appearances for the United reserves.



SCRAPHEAP

Fagan then began his travels. Upon leaving United, the best offer he found was from former England coach Glenn Hoddle, who had set up a soccer academy in Spain for players who had been let go by English clubs but were not ready yet for the scrapheap.

That led to a short-term contract with Scottish side Hamilton last year, but he never got to play for the side. On the move again, he managed to get a two-year contract last summer with League Two side Lincoln City, was instantly handed the No10 shirt and made an early impression, scoring three times in his first eight games.

But a poor run of results and managerial changes at Lincoln, who went through three managers in the space of a month before Chris Sutton took over, saw Fagan left out in the cold. Knowing that he needed to play games, he asked to go on loan and the Spanish connection with Hoddle's set-up yielded an offer from Jerez.

"I didn't know too much about the club before I came but I was happy to come here and try it," says Fagan, who made an instant impact by scoring twice -- and getting sent off -- on his debut.

"There were a couple of English lads here already so that helped me settle," he says. "I got an apartment with an English lad on the team so it's good to have some company."

Jerez, with a population of 200,000, is one of the bigger cities in the southern region of Spain but Fagan's club is not what put the place on the map. Sherry comes from here and so too Xerez Club Deportivo, a club who play in Spain's top flight. But Jerez Industrial -- with average crowds of 1000 -- are a small outfit.

"It's hard to compare it with football back home or in England, but it's probably on a par with League Two. It's certainly bigger than the Conference," he says.

"We'd be one of the smaller clubs in the division. Last weekend we played Grenada. They hammered us 4-1 and they are a huge club. They get crowds of about 10,000. They're more like a club from the Championship in England, and we're not on that scale.



CROWDS

"Xerez, from the same city, are in the top division in Spain, I think for the first time ever, so they are getting all the attention and all the crowds.

"But it's a good place to be and a good standard of football. For me, coming here was about getting games. I wasn't getting in at Lincoln so I needed to play and this was a good opportunity," added Fagan.

"It has gone well for me. I scored two on my debut, I missed the next game through suspension as I was sent off -- nothing bad, two yellows -- and have played four games.

"We're down at the bottom of the league and we need to try and stay up.

"We have 10 league games left and hopefully I can score a few more goals and help the side stay up."

Some exports to Spain end up staying for good, such as former Ireland international Michael Robinson, who saw out his playing days in Spanish football (with Osasuna) and has been there ever since. He's now established as a leading TV analyst.

But Fagan won't be stopping on the Spanish coast.



CAPPED

"I have a year left at Lincoln so I plan to go back there at the end of the season, have a good pre-season and do well for them next year," says Fagan, capped once at U21 level.

"I have done a fair bit of travelling, with Spain and Scotland and England, but I hope to settle down at Lincoln next season.

"I am still only 20 and this is just my first full season in first team football so I have a lot more to learn, and this Spanish experience will only help me," concludes Fagan.

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