Tag Archives: Interview

INTERVIEW: Jack Harper – ‘I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.’

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.”

National Pride

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.”

Learning Lessons

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!

My first post for The Offside Rule Podcast (We Get It)!

Hey guys!

A very proud moment for me this – check out a copy of my first article for the Offside Rule Podcast! You can find the article itself here on the Offside Rule Podcast’s website but this blog has had 1000 views in the last month so I thought at the very least I should put a copy of my most important article to date on here!

The article is based on an interview I had with a young man called Seth Burkett. Seth is the first English footballer to have ever played professionally for a Brazilian domestic side and, whilst I spoke to him about a number of different topics which you can see in the full transcript here, the article is based on where he thinks the British can learn from what he saw over there in Brazil!

Read on to find the article and be sure to click the link at the end to check out Seth’s book as well as the link to our transcript as there really are some great insights in there! 🙂


Joga Bonita, Futsal, the way forward for England’s youth

Having a successful youth career, travelling to Brazil – becoming a pioneer of English football in the process – and completing an education at one of the country’s best universities are achievements anyone would be proud of. 

At just 23-years-old though, Seth Burkett has no plans to stop there.

Having released a book regarding his experiences in Brazil, he was happy to go one step further for The Offside Rule (We Get It!) as he spoke to Jamie Thomas on how those experiences can help push England’s youth development programme forward.

Where England are struggling:

Burkett thinks England’s key failings start with the training sessions: “It isn’t rare for over 50% of a training session in England to be conducted without a ball. It is a much more rigid style.”

The philosophy of his coach in Brazil was a simple one.

“Would a musician practise without his instrument? Then why would a footballer practise without a ball at his feet? “Brazil’s fluid style is facilitated by a real focus on the beauty of the ball; they always train with the ball at their feet. Joga Bonita – play beautiful – is the Brazilian philosophy,” he added.

Burkett also thinks the lifestyle of English players causes problems: “In England players are given everything and enjoy luxury accommodation. This, according to Brazilians, breeds a sense of entitlement. “This does not work well on the pitch. The player has less desire to train hard and progress because he is happy with his current life.”

Where England can improve:

A key concept that kept popping up in our interview was Burkett’s belief that our youngsters are being over-coached, arguing that players need to be given freedom from an early age to express themselves.

He said: “If young players are allowed to express themselves and enjoy the experience without worrying about making a mistake then creativity should be fostered as a result.

“I’d stress the benefits of Futsal being played at an early age. We don’t want to create robots – we want to create skilful, spontaneous players, players who Joga Bonita!”

According to Burkett, Football Associations are taking some positive steps in developing coaches: “The focus on coach education is positive, though care does need to be taken.”

He also argues that more needs to be done to encourage English clubs to utilise homegrown talent: ‘More incentive needs to be given to play English players. The concept of home-grown players needs looking at.”

Where Brazil are getting it right:

Burkett thinks Brazil play with such flair because they aren’t over-coached: “Nothing is drilled into the Brazilians in training and that is the beauty of football over there.

“Their playing style is so fluid because they receive very little instruction: they are given the ball and asked to find a solution to problems they’re presented with”

He saw the benefits of Futsal first-hand whilst over in Brazil and is now actively involved in the sport, having been called up for the England Futsal squad previously.

“Most players in Brazil play street football and Futsal, where players do not have set positions and are expected to play everywhere until the age of 11, and are not taught tactics until 13,” he said.

This is where England are going wrong, in his opinion. “Here a player is often assigned a position in which they remain throughout their career from the age of seven. How can you possibly tell where a player should play at that age?”

Encouraging others to play abroad:

Despite spending his time in Brazil living in a filthy converted garage with barred windows and 31 teammates who didn’t speak English, Burkett says he would jump at the chance to go back to Brazil.

“I would love to return to Brazil to play. The only trouble is that going back to Brazil requires me to speak with Brazilians. I am yet to meet an organised, time-conscious Brazilian,” he said.

He does, though, recommend going abroad to play: “I strongly encourage other players to go abroad to play football – you learn so much more about every aspect of the game.

“I think this is why England suffer – we predominantly have players who play in the English leagues. We are ignorant to other cultures and styles of football.”

He also argues that many of England’s top prospects could have benefitted from heading abroad, adding one youngster in particular would have benefited massively.

“It goes for every player but I when I look at Jack Wilshere I wonder just how much he would improve if he went abroad to play.

“I just feel that, in say Spain, where players need to be a bit calmer and more measured on the ball, he could add a lot to his game and take himself to the top level,” he added.

For more of Seth Burkett’s story, his recently released a book ‘The Boy In Brazil’ is available on Amazon. The book documents his experiences in Brazil and has been hailed as “an enchanting story” by football writer Patrick Barclay.

The link to buy Seth’s book: The Boy in Brazil is here

Follow Seth on Twitter here!

A Talk with Marti Perarnau & BackPage Press on hotly anticipated Pep Guardiola book!

Hey guys,

Been a few weeks since I’ve published anything – back in university now and it is kinda hectic so apologies for that!

What I have for you today though is a piece I am really excited about. I’m a huge fan of BackPage Press and love the books they manage to publish – if you haven’t read any of them and you’re a sports fan then I seriously suggest you change that! You will not regret it. Anyway, their latest release is an insider’s account on Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of Bayern Munich – written by the excellent Marti Perarnau.

Naturally, I had to try and get in on this so I got in touch with the excellent guys at BackPage Press and they put me in touch with Mr Perarnau who very kindly agreed to talk to me about his latest project. Read on to find out what he, and the guys at BackPage Press, had to say!

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated – I hope you enjoy it! 🙂


Marti Perarnau, BackPage Press ‘Very Excited’ to Release Highly Anticipated Guardiola Book

Pep Guardiola is a champion of the modern game – releasing a book about one of the most highly respected and successful men in world football can understandably be a daunting task.

For Marti Perarnau though, a relative veteran of Guardiola-oriented literature, having written a book on the Tika-Taka tinkerer before, is ‘very excited’ about his latest Guardiola book’s impending UK release.

Pep Confidential is the inside story of the former Barcelona superstar’s first season at the helm of FC Bayern Munich and marks the first time in the modern football era that a writer has been given such candid access to one of the powerhouses of world football.

As the book’s October 16th release date neared, Mr Perarnau told me of his unwavering excitement: “I had the same feeling of excitement when the book was published in Germany and in Spain. With each country it is published in, it seems as if it is a new book”.

Publishers, BackPage Press – who are co-publishing Pep Confidential with Arena Sport, an imprint of Edinburgh-based Birlinn – were equally buoyant regarding the latest addition to their catalogue: “We’re very excited. It is an incredible achievement for a writer to be granted such a level of access but also to pull it off with such skill”.

They went on to add “This is arguably the greatest football coach in the world laying out his coaching manual in great detail. If there is any justice, Pep Confidential will be a huge book not only for readers but people within football”.

Mr Perarnau had only met Guardiola once, four years ago, prior to writing this book and detailed how the help of a good friend as well as a little bit of luck enabled him to embark on this project.

“I am very good friends with Manel Estiarte, his assistant, and I informed him that I was going to write a book about Pep’s first year at Bayern. By then, they had already decided that, for once, they would make an exception to their privacy”.

“It was at that moment, I appeared. It was a coincidence – luckily for me. Even then, I had to earn the confidence of Pep day by day.” He added.

Perarnau pointed out that one of his main inspirations for writing the book was “wanting to know, in depth, the true Pep, who is very different from what is said about him”.

It didn’t take the Spanish writer long to decide that Guardiola was who he wanted to be the topic of his latest literary piece, describing how he decided instantly on the day Munich announced him as their new manager.

He said “I was thinking of some ideas for a new book when I heard the news and I thought that this could be a good idea: A great coach like Pep at a great club like Bayern”.

Despite relocating to Munich for a year to fully focus on the challenge that lay in front of him, Mr Perarnau spoke of how he enjoyed the task that lay ahead of him and how much he appreciated the opportunity Guardiola had given him.

“It’s been a fun year but also very stressful. Particularly stressful because I had to pick out all the details and remember the conversations to write. I always tried to be honest and show the trust and generosity Pep had shown me”.

Understandably, with Guardiola being one of the game’s great tacticians, getting to grips with his instructions on the training pitch is difficult – Mr Perarnau characterised this as one of his biggest challenges.

“The challenges were to understand Pep’s technical explanations, stay focused, not to miss the details of what happened and try to remember all the details in order to write them down. There was no chance to relax”.

As grateful as he evidently is for the opportunity, Mr Perarnau seemed slightly melancholic when discussing his next project: “Now begins a big problem. Pep Guardiola’s character is fascinating because it is rich in nuances – he is not just a great coach. Now what? It is the question that I ask every day”.

However he ended by pointing out that he had “several ideas” but was still yet to make a decision on which one to pursue.

Publishers BackPage Press, however, were clear on where their next book was coming from: “We have a book on the Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas out next year, which we’ll be releasing more details of soon”.

You can find more information about Marti Perarnau’s new book (out on the 16th of October) and the other award-winning titles they have in their catalogue via the BackPage Press website or through hitting the guys up on Twitter via @BackPagePress and/or @ArenaSportBooks

A Quick Chat with Guillem Balague!

What a wicked few days!

Interviewed the FAW President last Friday, met Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the legendary Ryan Giggs on Sunday and then last night I got to meet and have a very quick chat with Spanish football aficionado, Guillem Balague.

In the heart of one of his favourite cities, I attended the final event of Guillem’s two-and-a-half year Messi Book Tour at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

After a fair bit of pestering (apologies for that if you read this Mr Glasswell), I managed to grab myself five minutes with the man himself – what follows is a brief article based on what we talked about!


Balague looks to New Season after Finishing Book Tour

After two and a half years of promoting and discussing his critically acclaimed Lionel Messi biography, Guillem Balague closed off his book tour among many friends and fans in Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

In the brief few moments before he addressed those in attendance and introduced some of the musicians performing, Mr Balague was happy to talk about what to expect in this season’s La Liga action.

The gap in financial firepower between Spain’s top three and the rest of the league seems to be growing by the year but the Revista De La Liga star was adamant that this wouldn’t make the shock results that make for such good viewing any less popular.

“They’ve spent significantly more money than the rest of the league but when that whistle blows it is 11 against 11 and there are some very intelligent players and coaches all across the league so you’re still going to see that.”

He added “Because actually, even though the teams you mentioned have spent a lot of money, the teams themselves at the moment are a work in progress.”

After the summer Real Madrid have had, with some spectacular players joining the club many people have them down as favourites to win their 33rd La Liga title this season, despite their difficult start.

Mr Balague agreed though that there was definitely one key departure who needed replacing: “Clearly they are going to need to bring in someone like Alonso because at the moment it is hard to see who fills that role”.

He also said “then again people said similar things about them last season and look at what they achieved then, winning another Cup and winning La Decima”.

As for whether or not Mr Balague felt anyone in the current XI was capable of filling the hole Alonso had left, he was unsure but was looking forward to seeing what this could mean for Madrid.

“I’m not sure Kroos can fill the Alonso role but all that means is that we are possibly going to be seeing Madrid playing differently this year which is exciting”.

Mr Balague finished the talk with a brief point addressing Barcelona’s start to the season and played down concerns that they hadn’t done enough business in the summer “Well they’ve done a lot, they got new players in each position”.

“They’ve started really well and are trying some new things under Luis Enrique – most of the key players they needed to play the way they want to play were already at the club so we’ll see but at the moment they’re doing well”.

TBT – My favourite piece of work! – Graham Hunter interview!

Hey guys!

I had intended to publish some examples of my previous work to this blog just so you can check out my writing style and all that but that’s a bit of a slow process as I’m my own biggest critic so I don’t actually think a lot of very many of them. So what I thought I’d do was just re-publish one of my favourite pieces of work for Fortitude Magazine.

Below you will find a transcript of my interview with the legendary Graham Hunter! For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is one of the best Spanish football journalists around at the moment – UEFA’s official correspondent for Barcelona Football Club and a very successful author. I met him back in February and spent a fair bit of time picking his brains about football before the World Cup came along in June and I decided to ask him for an interview – the complete, unaltered, transcript follows below. There’s a fair bit of insight to digest but you see in one question in particular how he called the potential for what happened to Spain to actually happen before the tournament began so it is definitely worth a read! Enjoy!


Jamie Thomas: Will you be going to Brazil this summer and if so how much are you looking forward to it, given the country’s footballing history?

I’m going to Brazil, yes and it´s a thrill. Of course it is. The work of a sportswriter is hard and draining so there will be some who will moan about it but going to a World Cup to report on the action remains the epitome of the job so I´m full of adrenaline for it!

JT: You’ve travelled with the squad for the last three tournaments. How difficult is that to do? It sounds like a lot of fun but surely it can be exceptionally stressful at times can’t it?

GH: It’s a bit of a mix of stress and fun. I love the fact that Spain often train twice a day; it’s plain to see how much benefit it does the players. It acts as a weapon against boredom and keeps the squad sharp and competitive. However if they train twice then we work twice, thus there’s about four or five hours work around the first training session, about an hour off, then the same again for the second session. It can lead to really long, tiring days but its fascinating, really interesting at all times, stressful sometimes but a joy to do!  

JT: As for the team itself, with the World Cup being in South America and with no European nation ever having won it down there, do you think Spain could be the first to manage it and why?

GH: Spain have a horrible group and a horrible order of matches. The first one is against a young, athletic Dutch squad in the only venue with humidity which Spain have to contend with in the group stages – Salvador. Holland have been in training for several days while the majority of Spain’s players have still been competing at club level until very recently and, bar Strootman, Holland have fewer injury problems. I say this because tournament winners regularly go out in the group stages of the following tournament i.e Italy in 2010, France in 2002. So, realistically, there’s a chance of group exit if Spain aren’t switched on from the start. After that though I see Spain as a very good team in knockout situations and thus a possible winner if they manage to get out of the group.

JT: As you say, they’ve got a horrible group, arguably the toughest – what problems do the likes of Holland, Chile and Australia pose to Del Boqsue’s side?

GH: Holland are very young and athletic. The horror story for Spain would be if the fixture between these two sides was a) anything like the Swiss game at this point four years ago, where Spain became the first side to lose their opening group game and then win the group; to have to do that again would be a big ask and b) if this game resembled Ajax vs Barcelona in the Champions League this season then the threat is big. Also because the game is in Salvador where the humidity is very high, Holland’s athleticism is a greater threat to Spain; factor in that Van Gaal’s side will have had so much longer to prepare and a defeat in this fixture for Spain followed by a brutal test against Chile isn’t a good combination. Spain’s last few games against Chile have been bad-tempered, very tough and capable of going either way. Australia as a test greatly depends on how the first two fixtures go; facing them in Curtiba, close to where Spain are based is good, as is the climate around that area. Normally you’d expect Spain to beat Australia but if the previous two results for Spain have been negative then an athletic, physically strong Australia side will be more testing. The message for Spain is simple: win the first two games!

JT: If they both win their respective groups, Spain and Brazil won’t meet until the final. Should they both get there, how much should we read into what happened in the Confederations Cup Final last summer and what lessons will Spain have learned from that defeat in order to better cope with the hosts this time around?

GH: This time around, Spain need to cope better with the climactic conditions and all of the travelling they’re going to have to do. Their tiredness and not rotating the starting XI between the semi-final and the final as much as they maybe should have done were major factors in the big defeat to Brazil last summer.

JT:

GH: If he’s on form, Koke in particular could be very important to Spain. His incredible energy, ability to win many tackles and high amount of goal assists will definitely be big assets for Spain; especially at a time when Xavi can’t be asked to play seven full matches on the trot.

JT: Given the amount of top-class youth talent you’ve seen coming through the Spanish league and into the national side over recent years, how highly do you rate Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling?

GH: I want to be careful here; I don’t claim to be an expert on subjects which I can’t properly studyI want to be careful here. I don’t claim to be expert on subjects which I can’t study properly. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to fit into the modern template for an attacking full-back or wing-back. He’s clearly athletic, clever, positionally quite clever and talented. Whether he’s yet a defender’s defender I’d say is a question but a natural one given that he’s so young. Watching his play enthuses me as I enjoy seeing a player of his style and hearing good things about his upbringing and personality further enthuses me. He has a lot to learn but probably has the capacity to learn it.

Barkley is evidently a talent but it’s also true that the enormous attention and excitement in England whenever anyone of any reasonable ability comes through is a threat. It’s vital that he doesn’t get carried away with the wave of praise and excitement and it’s also vital that people start to speak carefully and analytically about him rather than simply saying that he’s already magnificent and a dead cert to start for England. Clearly he’s got tremendous power, personality and a will to win but again there’s a lot of learning to come and was patently over-played this season such that he was tired and making some ragged decisions in the latter part of the season. Again though, I’m enthused by him and delighted that England have got a young buck of his ability beginning to emerge.

All I’ve said about Shaw and Barkley, I said of Sterling when he was coming through last season. I knew, as anyone of experience knew, that to ask too much of him repeatedly would hinder his development and at his age that’s vital. You’ve seen the benefits this season as he’s more central to the play of the team, has more stamina, makes better decisions and has added more of a goal-scoring threat. He’s a thrilling player and I hope he continues to think and develop his game.

JT: You spoke in your latest book about how Spain viewed their fixture with England at Old Trafford in 2007 as a real turning point in their fortunes which played a big part in them going on to become what they are today. Should these two sides meet again, even if England lose, do you think that there’s any comparison here and that this fixture could act as that same spark, but for Roy Hodgson’s men this time around?

GH: No, I don’t think there’s any comparison in the ‘breakthrough’ Spain felt that they managed that day at Old Trafford compared to if England were to play Spain and beat them; the cases are totally separate. Iniesta told me that they cleared out generations of ‘over respect’ for England and English football that day. Doing so at such a young age and at Old Trafford were great liberators for these players; I don’t think there’s the same feeling in England. Spain at that stage felt inferior and felt vulnerable while in England there’s this constant ‘we are the best and it’s only a matter of time before we show it’ – a mentality bred into the players by the media and by fans. I hope England play with all the technique of Spain and the will to win of the British Isles but how they achieve it is a much more complicated process.