Name me a Scot who plays for Real Madrid. Go on. And has scored 3 goals in the Champions League (okay, the U-20 version) this season. And signed a 5-year contract with Madrid in 2012. And who FourFourTwo named as one of their top European youngsters to keep an eye on. No?
That Scot is a young man by the name of Jack Harper. Harper was born in Malaga in 1996, the son of Scottish parents. As such, he is eligible for both Spain and Scotland at international level. Mr Harper has brilliantly thrown his lot in with Scotland, appearing so far for the U-17 and U-19 sides.
People with more knowledge on this matter than myself, particularly the Spanish football expert and Dons fan Graham Hunter, have seen this season as something of a breakthrough for Harper at Madrid. 6 foot 1 and lithe and languid of touch, he sounds like a possible superstar of the future for our national side, and one our football association would do well to nurture and develop. Particularly as we don’t really want him to do a Diego Costa and jump ship to Spain.
This week, Scotland U-19 manager (and former Sunderland dogsbody) Ricky Sbragia named his squad for Scotland’s set of upcoming qualifiers for the U-19 European Championships, with matches against Italy, Austria and Croatia on the horizon. Jack Harper was not one of the names on Mr Sbragia’s list.
And what of the reasoning for excluding this precocious Scottish talent who has a long term contract with one of the world’s biggest clubs? He is apparently a “luxury player”, and Sbragia has instead gone for players who are “physical”, with “more height” (Harper is 6″1 remember) and “runners.”
Okay, granted we have a tendency in this country to big young players up way too early then watch with uncalled for surprise as they either crash and burn (Derek Riordan) or eke out a decent but not spectacular career (Mark Burchill). Harper may not end up being the second Kenny Dalglish, or even the second Kenny Miller.
However, Sbragia’s attitude to the young man is, frankly, bewildering. Here is a guy who has proven himself on the European stage at his age level already this season, but because he can “float all over the place” with Real Madrid, while for Scotland he must be “more disciplined”, this means by Sbragia’s logic that he must be denied the chance to show what he can do at international level.
Granted, players at Madrid will be swallowed up and spat out on a regular basis. However, it would seem Harper is not one of those given the time and money already invested in the Scotto-Spaniard. Graham Hunter calls his exclusion from the U-19 squad a “prehistoric and retrograde step” – I completely agree.
The crowning turd in the water pipe is seemingly that Sbragia doesn’t see enough of Harper to be able to make an informed decision. Well I tell you what Ricky, go. Easyjet fly to Madrid from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you’re stuck on where exactly he’s playing, you can even catch a Metro from the airport to the Bernabeu station and ask the Real Madrid staff yourself! I can’t imagine Spanish youth football or the UEFA Youth League are played in some mystical parallel footballing zone, however.
This young man is potentially a future star of the Scottish national team, and he is being treated like a pariah because he happens to adopt a different outlook on the game than the average Scottish U-19 player. All the more reason to get him in the squad, and in my view it is absolutely imperative that Sbragia gets him in as soon as possible, before he decides that maybe he does fancy a game with Isco instead of Ikechi Anya on a more permanent basis.