Tag Archives: Sports

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!

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Vokes returns to squad for Wales’ ‘biggest game in 12 years’

Following a terrific start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman this morning announced his Wales squad for what he is calling Wales’ biggest game since 2003.

Back then, Wales faced a two-legged Euro 2004 playoff against Russia to uplift for the final tournament but lost out, losing 1-0 on aggregate.

Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

No Chester

The squad contained all of the usual names, as well as the returning Sam Vokes and Simon Church but there was no place for James Chester who has missed a lot of time with a shoulder injury.

There had been speculation as to whether or not Chester would be included as he is expected to make a return this weekend against Chelsea but Coleman was very dismissive of the possibility.

‘I don’t think he’ll play this weekend. You never know but speaking to James last week I can’t see him playing, and even so he’s been out a long time.

‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors usually say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley (Williams).’

Big 50th

Ashley Williams is expected to win his 50th cap for Wales in the game against Israel and Coleman was full of praise for his skipper.

’50 caps – it was inevitable really for him – he’s a great captain and great leader and what better game to get his 50th in?

‘Ashley’s been in the real world; he didn’t start at a top Premier League academy or anything – he saw what life is really like.

‘He respects and cherishes every game he plays – that’s why he doesn’t miss games – he loves his job.’

The Wales manager also noted how he expects many more players to break the 50 and, hopefully, 100 cap barriers for Wales in the coming years.

‘We don’t have any players with over 100 caps. Of course we don’t get regular tournament football but still.

‘Ash could do it and get 100 but so could Chris Gunter – 57 caps is a very impressive return but we’re trying to push them to as many caps as we can.’

Vokes Return

Coleman thinks Sam Vokes, who has made a comeback from injury in recent weeks, adds something to the squad that they haven’t had before.

‘A few times we’ve created scenarios in the games where we’re getting balls into the box that would’ve been ideal for Sam so it is great to have him back.

‘Watching him come back into the fray, it is clear he isn’t 100% but he’s two or three weeks away and, most importantly, back playing football.’

The former Fulham manager also praised Burnley for the way they have handled Vokes in his return from the long injury layoff.

‘Dyche has managed it in the correct way. Some managers might’ve pushed Sam back into the team quicker if they were in the position Burnley were in earlier in the season but he’s handled Sam really well.’

Bale Criticism

Israel’s manager recently made comments  saying Bale was saving himself for Wales amidst criticism of his form for Real Madrid. Coleman jokingly responded: ‘If he is then it is great for me!’

He added ‘When you play for Real Madrid, winning is not enough – you have to entertain too! Gareth’s a big boy and he’ll come through this no problem.’

Reporters asked Coleman whether or not the comments were mind games designed to unsettle Bale further. Coleman simply responded saying it showed Bale is on their minds:

‘I think they’ll be thinking about him – I would be! Most teams would be looking at him – whether he’s on form or not he can turn a game on its head.

‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘I’ve never been one for mind games. I’d rather get down to business when the whistle blows and see what we can do.’

The Wales squad fly out to Tel Aviv late next week ahead of their qualifier in Haifa on Saturday the 28th; the game kicks off at 5pm on Sky Sports 5.

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