How playing in Spain turned Fisk’s fortunes around
Jon Hartson recently argued that Scottish prodigy Oliver Burke should have joined the English Premier League rather than a Bundesliga club.
In the former striker-turned-pundit’s words: “The Premier League would have tested him. We only see highlights of Bayern Munich and Dortmund.”
A few days later, the 19-year-old played his first game for RB Leipzig. Despite an impressive performance, coach Ralph Hasenhüttl said afterwards that Burke’s “hard drive off the ball is empty”.
“After that stellar season, a prestigious team came knocking for a player that was making waves”
This was a criticism of how players are coached on British shores. While the emphasis is placed on productivity, the other intricacies of the game are sparsely taught.
Every country has their own point of emphasis in coaching: a model that, culturally, has worked for eternity.
With Ben Fisk, this story is no different. When the Canadian forward became a free agent in 2013, having previously played for the Vancouver Whitecaps U23s, he decided to move abroad despite domestic offers.
Fast-forward three years and Fisk is now back home, in contention for Young Player of the Year in the NASL and one step closer to being capped for the senior Canadian national team.
But his journey has been crafted by his time in Spain.
Fisk arrived there shortly after being released by Vancouver, signing a contract with Segunda B (a second tier to the second division in Spain) side Coruxo FC with hopes of working his way up the ladder of Spanish football.
“That season was a great transitional period for me,” he told me. “I was living abroad and learning a new foreign culture.
“I enjoyed my time at Coruxo and I’m utterly grateful to them for allowing me to get my foot in the door of Spanish football.”
That slightly undersells the forward’s impact, though. He was Coruxo’s star player that year, bagging a hat-trick against Tropezón to help them qualify for the Copa Federación.
After that stellar season, a prestigious team came knocking for a player that was making waves.
So, there Fisk stood: in front of the Deportivo de la Coruña badge, thumbs pointing upward and a grin on his face that told a story of its own.
Despite the offers for Fisk to go out on loan, the talented forward opted to stay with Deportivo to improve his chances of playing with the first team.
“I chose to sign with the reserves at Deportivo as it was my last year as an Under-23 player, so I really wanted to give myself a chance to break through into the first team of a La Liga club.”
Fisk played 21 games as the B side, known as Fabril, reached the play-offs for promotion to the second division.
He never played for the Deportivo senior side, although he did train with the players on several occasions, but has no regrets.
“Things didn’t go as I’d hoped as I wasn’t able to really break through, but I’m still very grateful for my time with Deportivo because it helped develop me into a better footballer.”
He had the chance to stay in Spain the following season but opted against it for a number of reasons.
Perhaps the most staggering – and one we often do not hear confessed by young footballers – was one that spoke of the finances of Spanish football.
“The economy in Spain and other countries in Europe is very poor at the moment, so it is tough to make a good living playing in the lower tiers,” Fisk said.
This is a genuine issue, since a bit of research revealed to me that the majority of young footballers in Spain on professional contracts actually earn less than minimum wage.
With the economy still struggling and prices rising, some non-Spanish youngsters are forced to return home if they do not represent one of the super teams.
Like Fisk, they do not have family to lean on financially.
So Fisk returned to Canada and signed for Edmonton FC. Within the space of a few months, he was nominated for NASL Young Player of the Year, scoring two crucial goals in his team’s bid for a play-off spot.
“All the way from La Liga down to Tercera, the players know how to play proper football”
But did Spain really help his explosion onto the scene in Canada? “I viewed my time there as a very holistic footballing education,” he said.
“As an attacking player, I learned specific things like how they want you to move off the ball – maybe something I didn’t do before. But I also learned just as much on the defensive side and my role when the other team has the ball.”
This has certainly made him a cherished attacker in Canada, showing that he can contribute more than simply setting up a goal or tapping one in himself.
Fisk also partly attributes his success to the competitiveness of Spanish football irrespective of the tier.
“I think the biggest difference is how strong the teams are tactically. All the way from La Liga down to Tercera, the players know how to play proper football. They know how to attack and defend as units, and it creates great competition no matter the level.”
Players are often put off moving abroad because of the culture clash and having to learn a new language.
“Language issues shouldn’t deter youngsters from going abroad”
That period of settling in is stressful. Will your team-mates accept you? Will you be ridiculed? How will you balance learning the language with playing football?
These questions certainly crossed Fisk’s mind, but he stressed: “I was very lucky, in that I had fantastic team-mates both at Coruxo FC and then at Deportivo.
“They were always very patient with me as I worked on my Spanish and that helped me gain confidence speaking. Language issues shouldn’t deter youngsters from going abroad.”
Fisk’s return home was motivated not only by the chance to be reunited with family and friends, but also to get closer to a place in the senior national team.
“Returning to Canada does help me get noticed more by the national team coaches as they are able to see all of my matches. Representing my country is a very important to me.”
“”In two or three years, I hope to be an established player for our senior national team, as well as either playing back in Europe at a high level, or moving on to the MLS”
Does this mean Fisk will never return to Europe?
“Of course have dreams of returning to play at the highest level in Europe, but it would have to be the right situation with a club that seemed very keen on me.
“For now, I am just focused on playing the best football I can and helping my team win a championship.”
Whatever the future holds for the 23-year-old, it’s evident that playing abroad has developed him as a footballer.
Once rejected in Canada, he’s now one of the country’s most talked-about players. That would not have happened had he opted against moving to Spain.
Edmonton FC are currently 3rd in the NASL, with Fisk a regular starter in a team boasting the best defensive record in the league.