Debate rages over the amount of chances young English players get in the Premier League. However, some young English players are taking their first steps onto the professional ladder abroad, as they seek the opportunities often lacking at home. One of these is Scott Sutter, who is plying his trade in the unfamiliar climbs of the Swiss Super League. Insidefutbol.com’s Jamie Butcher went to meet him.
The moment I walked out of Zurich International airport the cleanliness of the air and distinct lack of litter let me know that I was without a doubt in one of the classiest countries in Europe. I was there to meet one of the few Englishmen to take a risk and play abroad from a young age, Scott Sutter.
Sutter is just 22 years-old and has already played at youth level for Millwall, Charlton, Aston Villa and Barnet respectively.
I met Scott at a café in the centre of Zurich where he explained not only his career so far but also his opinions on the English league, his hopes of one day playing in the Premier League and fulfilling his boyhood dream of representing his country.
I was slightly intimidated by Scott’s good looks and clearly up-to-date fashion sense at first, but those intimidations were soon gone after a friendly handshake and hug. Scott is as down to earth as they come.
I asked him how it was that he was playing for one of Switzerland’s most recognisable clubs; “My Dad is Swiss and one of his old school mates played tennis against the managing director of Grasshoppers”. He managed to set up a trial in Switzerland and Scott was offered a contract. At that point he had also received a contract from Charlton but decided to take a huge gamble and move abroad at the tender age of 16: “I really thought that the club could bring me forward as a footballer”.
“I thought it was a great opportunity, I could live on my own even though I’d just turned 16”. Moving abroad was not the only problem; there was also a language barrier which had to be overcome: “My team-mates spoke Swiss German so I had to learn it quickly”.
The first six months were very difficult for Scott, as well as moving to a new country alone, and learning a new language, he was also being played out of position by his then manager: “It wasn’t as though I was in my position and not getting picked, I was seen out of position and on the bench!”, he looks back at this time and laughs about it now, although at the time he wasn’t sure whether he’d made the right decision.
Originally Scott was a central midfielder, a position which he played all through his youth career, but was offered a chance at right-back. I asked him how his manager had explained what would be required to play in this new position: “The coach said it was similar to right wing… but you’ve got to defend more!”. And, remarkably, that was it.
Through hard work and commitment he was called up to the first team against rivals Young Boys Bern. “I found out the night before at the hotel, I only slept for two hours that night. I was rooming with another young guy and he was snoring all night. I couldn’t have slept anyway”.
Scott’s debut went well, playing 75 minutes and getting decent reviews. He went on to hold down the right-back position for that season and established himself as a first-team regular (and has now clocked up over 80 appearances in a Grasshoppers shirt).
As his father is Swiss, Scott is eligible for the Swiss national side and has represented them at all levels except senior. Growing up in Switzerland, Scott was trying his best to get himself noticed by his club manager and decided it would be a good idea to turn out for the Swiss, before he finally decided to commit himself to England. “It hit me when I was in a bar supporting England with all my mates, wearing my England shirt and I knew that the next week I was going to be turning out for Switzerland. It just didn’t feel right. I was English”.
In June 2007, disaster struck. Grasshoppers were playing in a pre-season friendly against the national team of Oman and in the 25th minute a crunch challenge would change Scott’s career; “I went to volley cross the ball and this guy jumped in two-footed, I’d followed through as if I was shooting with all my power”. Scott has been out for 19 months with ankle cartilage damage.
It’s been a long road back, and after two operations (including one in Amsterdam by the same surgeon who operated on Cristiano Ronaldo) Scott is now approaching full fitness. ”I re-live the challenge every day, but I’m not angry – these things happen in football”. Whether it is down to having moved abroad at such a young age or just his general character, Scott is very mature for a 22 year-old and has a very philosophical view on the game.
“There are so many mental lows, so many times when you think it’s getting better then all of a sudden something will happen and throw you back again. In this time I’ve learnt the most about myself”.
As far as the future goes, Scott is still very ambitious and has a plan: “I’d love to move to a different league abroad like the German league, French league or even the Portuguese league – then after another couple of years it would be great to move back to England”.
The subject of playing in England again was something I was building towards but Scott brought it to the forefront of the conversation with an assured confidence. I was curious to know where he saw himself in five years time; “I’m realistic, I don’t expect to play for Chelsea, Man Utd or Arsenal, but I think I could play for a mid-table side. I’ve always said I’ll play in the Premier League one day and I still believe it”.
Confidence is something that Scott has in abundance, although it doesn’t always work to his advantage. He recalled a story from a derby match he’d played against FC Zurich – Scott was just starting to establish himself as the club’s first choice right-back, but in this particular game he was getting conflicting instructions from his manager and his captain: “The manager shouted at me to play on number 14, as I went to man-mark him my captain shouted at me to go back out to my position – after 17 minutes I was substituted. The manager went to shake my hand and I just walked straight past him. The manager went mad”. Realising he’d made a huge mistake Scott got in touch with him that night apologising for his unprofessionalism. “He accepted my apology but said that it could never happen again”.
This incident couldn’t have come at a worse time for Scott. Two weeks later Grasshoppers were playing Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup at the Riverside – the first opportunity for Scott to play in England wearing the Grasshoppers shirt. “I thought there was no way I was going to play – I wanted to play so badly in that game”. As it turned out he found out in the last training session before the match that he would be starting. The match was actually broadcast on Channel Five in the UK and gave Scott a huge amount of coverage: “I still get people now that I haven’t seen in ages saying that they saw me in that game three years ago”. Grasshoppers lost the match 1-0 but showed Middlesbrough that they were no pushovers.
Middlesbrough aren’t the only English club that Scott has faced. After Liverpool won the Champions League they arranged a pre-season friendly against Grasshoppers. Scott couldn’t resist asking one of his heroes for a cheeky favour: “I went up to Steven Gerrard before the game and asked if he’d mind swapping shirts with me after the game – I’ve still got his shirt, but I think he threw mine into the crowd!”
On the subject of English players playing abroad and the lack thereof, Scott offers an interesting view of the topic: “I think it would be good for a young player to go and learn how things work abroad but there just isn’t a reason for most English players to look overseas, the Premier League has the most money and the most media coverage”.
For someone who has been through quite a lot at a relatively young age, I was curious to know whether Scott regretted any decisions he’d made: “You can worry about it all forever and question decisions, but every step I made was the right one for me at the time. I’ve had an amazing journey so far”. With his down to earth nature, natural ability and determination his journey won’t be ending anytime soon.