A young Scottish man, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as he plays his football for one of the world’s biggest football clubs – welcome, everybody, to one of Real Madrid’s brightest youth prospects, Jack Harper.
Like his fellow Brit Gareth Bale has been doing in the first team, Harper has been lighting up the stat sheet for Real Madrid’s youth teams for some time now, notching goals and assists at will in domestic and European competitions.
Such impressive form from the youngster has inevitably resulted in comparisons to great forwards of years gone by, such as Robin van Persie and Alan Shearer, but Harper shows incredible maturity in the face of such comparisons:
“I’ve always tried to learn from watching players like Van Persie and its great to be compared to such great talents but I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.
“I’m always happy to hear my name getting compared to great players, and I’m putting in the work to hopefully become a top player in the future.”
Born and raised in Spain, it would have been easy for Harper to join the Spanish youth ranks at a young age – there was surely plenty of interest in him – but the youngster opted to join the Scottish set-up.
It is a rare combination of course, a Spanish-born youngster playing for Scotland, but the youngster speaks in a Scottish accent and has been known to regularly travel to Scotland to visit relatives and so on, as well as travelling back for national duty while most of his teammates head to train with the Spain set-up.
It shows how much Scotland means to Harper when I asked him whether debuting for Scotland’s first team or Real Madrid’s first team would mean more to him, he gave a short, defiant answer, with a smile: “Scotland.”
Such national pride is encouraging, almost inspiring, to see from such a young man who could, with all due respect to Scotland, win a lot more with Spain in the long run.
Especially given the fact that Ricky Sbragia, Scotland’s Under-19s coach, caused outrage a few months back as he declined the opportunity to pick Harper for his squad as Sbragia deemed him a ‘luxury player’ who wasn’t big enough, despite Harper standing at over 6ft tall.
Even in response to such a setback from a country he clearly loves, Harper showed maturity:
‘I’m always determined to get better and better. Hopefully my time will come but I would rather pass on to another chapter now. I’m still young, I will work very hard and see how the future pans out.’
9? 10? 9 and a half?
If you look at the great forwards in the game these days, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, they’re all equally proficient at leading the attack as they are at putting the ball on a plate for others.
Former Scottish FA Performance Chief Marc Wotte mentioned in a Daily Mail article previously how it isn’t certain if the Scottish youth international is a number 9 or a number 10, prompting one of his Real Madrid coaches to label him a ‘9 and a half’.
It seems Harper would fit the mould then of these other top forwards as he himself has scored and assisted with equal frequency this year, but which does he prefer?:
“Playing as a number 9 you do tend to score more goals but I do prefer playing in a more creative role, linking up the midfield play with the centre forward. As a number 10 in Madrid this year I have scored plenty of goals and assisted from that position too.”
There are few better environments in football to learn in than Valdedebas, Real Madrid’s training ground – the perfect place for Harper to develop technique akin to his inspirations, Robin Van Persie, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
After another great season for Real’s youth team, the young Scot admits he has learnt some key lessons along the way this year:
“The big lessons are to work hard in training and try and learn from the great managers I’ve had all these years. That in any great team you always have to play 110% because the squads are big and you have fierce competition as everyone obviously wants to play in the starting XI.’
Harper famously offered to help the most expensive player on the planet, Gareth Bale, settle in to life in Madrid and feels he benefits greatly from being able to watch and interact with these top players regularly:
“The good thing is we see a lot of the first team walking about Valdedebas in the gym, the pools etc. When I see Gareth Bale we have a quick chat now and again, he’s a great guy, an inspiration to all British players. He’s one of the best players in the world playing for one of the best teams.”
It’s impressive to speak to a young man who has his feet firmly on the ground whilst still having his heart and mind focussed on the job at hand – becoming a top class footballer for one of the world’s top teams.
I firmly believe that Jack will do something special in the future if he keeps progressing through the football world in this manner – I can’t wait to see how it all pans out!