Tag Archives: Real Madrid

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!

‘Gareth should stay where he is’, says Coleman

Chris Coleman has given his thoughts on the current criticism surrounding Wales talisman Gareth Bale saying he thinks the Real Madrid star should stay put, amidst speculation of a move back to England.

Bale has been labelled as lazy and a ball hog this season, but speaking after Wales’ squad announcement yesterday for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel in, Coleman said:

“He’s the most expensive player in the world, I think he’s been caught up in a bit of a storm but knowing Gareth I’d be really surprised if he turned around and said he’d had enough and wanted to leave.

“He’s good enough to win the big trophies and play on the biggest stage with one of the biggest clubs and Real Madrid fit that bill,” He added.

It is well known that winning isn’t enough at Real Madrid as fans, board members and the media always expect them to not only win, but to do it convincingly and entertain in the process.

Coleman acknowledges this: ‘They’re different to Chelsea because although the pressure is on to perform every game, it is almost like a show when watching Madrid, there has to be entertainment.

‘Although they lost to Schalke they still got through but that isn’t good enough at Madrid. You can’t just win one or two nil, you have to win by more than that and entertain at the same time.’

After a 22-match winning streak that saw Madrid trail-blaze their way to the top of La Liga, their momentum has taken a serious hit recently and they’ve been criticised a lot as a result.

The Wales manager said: ‘Because it is Real Madrid and they are who they are if you’re not top of the league and banging in the goals every game then the fans aren’t going to be happy.

‘If you look at what has been said it is quite a personal attack on Bale – you can’t say they’ve not done as well in two or three games because of Gareth Bale’s performance, that just isn’t correct.’

The ex-Fulham manager feels that the criticism being levied at Bale is a bit too personal, and unfair given the tempo of the league and the work-rate of some of his Madrid teammates:

‘It is getting personal but lazy is the one word I wouldn’t use for Gareth Bale. He’s always up there far up beyond anyone else in his sprinting. I hope his tenure at Madrid doesn’t become untenable.

‘La Liga is different to the Premier League, the tempo is different, England is much less forgiving but he’s in better shape for us now as a result of him being there, playing twice, three times a week.

‘He does a lot of work Gareth, a lot of running and that’s his game when he gets the ball he’s off. I watch every Madrid game and you don’t often see Ronaldo, Benzema or Isco running back.’

Despite the criticism being thrown his way, Bale isn’t having any issues according to Coleman: ‘I spoke to his agent a few days ago and there’s absolutely no issues with him, he’s fine’

Bale has been praised this season whilst donning the Wales shirt for developing leadership qualities that have benefitted the Wales squad; Coleman says Bale loves the group ethic that has developed:

‘When he comes with us, it’s us, it’s a group thing and that’s our strength – he likes it. When he goes to Haifa next week he could have a bad game, but he could score a goal that wins us the match.

‘What he does do is he works hard for us and he fits into the system, whether we play him down the middle, out wide, at 9 or at 10, he knows wherever he plays it is to get to where we need to go.’

In spite of all the criticism, Coleman is adamant that Bale will have his mind firmly focussed on the task at hand when he joins up with the Wales squad next week and that reaching Euro 2016 is his aim.

‘The goal is to get enough points to go to France and that’s where he wants to be, that’s where he belongs at a tournament as one of the best players in football so I’m not worried when he joins us.’

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a chance, a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

 

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”.