Has Ricky Sbragia handed Jack Harper to Spain on a plate?


The fallout from Jack Harper’s exclusion from Ricky Sbragia’s Under-19 Scotland squad continues with fans and pundits alike rounding on the former Sunderland manager’s excuse to leave out the Real Madrid youngster.

Now, according to media reports, Spain were on the phone within 24 hours of his exclusion to check on his international status.

19-year-old Harper, who was born in Malaga but chose to commit to Scotland, is eligible to play for the Spanish and according to Harper’s Dad he could seriously consider his future if he continues to be left out.

Speaking to the Daily Record, John Harper said: “The day after Scotland announced the under-19 squad, and Jack wasn’t included, Spain were on the phone asking about his position and international status. Their national academy is just a few miles from Real Madrid’s own training ground, so they know about Jack because they watch his team often enough.

“Jack wants to play for Scotland. I’m Scottish, so is his mum and the rest of the family. He is committed to Scotland, but if nothing is happening by the time he is 21 then he will have a decision to make because he has a life and a career to fulfil. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

“To describe Jack as a ‘luxury player’ is a bit harsh. The word ‘luxury’ is a bit strong, but I have no wish to verbally assassinate the Scotland coach. He probably wishes he could back track on his choice of words because I certainly don’t believe Jack is a lazy player. He is not the type who will put in tackles all over the pitch and his game is more about passing and movement, but it’s better to let him do his talking on the football pitch.

“There have been many positives for him this season with Real Madrid. He has played and scored in the youth elite level for the club in the Champions League and that has helped his confidence. He is still fighting for the league and a couple of other major trophies with the club between now and the end of the season. He has still to fill out a bit, we appreciate that, but he’s already 6ft 1in and I know for a fact he will get there.”

Spanish football expert Graham Hunter was baffled by Harper’s exclusion, speaking to Talking Baws, Hunter said: “Quality is never a luxury. High technique is never a luxury. If the coach has an issue with Jack’s work rate he should a] tell him in private b] help alter that.

“Personally, having seen how Jack plays, understanding his will to play for Scotland, and having suffered too long without Scotland having sufficient high quality players in our playing pool I think this is a retrograde step, almost impossible to understand and extremely disappointing.

“This coach isn’t in a full-time club job, and one of the complaints of all who coach at international level is the lack of day-to-day contact with players.

“What they DO have is time. Time to study, time to follow players’ development. If Ricky hasn’t seen a lot of Jack … then WHY not?

“Games in the Madrid youth system are easy to follow, there’s no reason not to have taken in five or six of them in person or via a scout.

“If the decision not to include Jack based on power and height etc seems retrograde and the lack of ‘eyes on’ the player, to me, is totally inexplicable. The coach, ultimately, must take big decisions and I respect his right to do that.

“But in this case I strongly disagree with the criteria upon which this one has been made Spain have just spent eight years, 2006-2014 dominating senior and youth football with players who share Jack’s characteristics.”

What ever happened to the Scottish FA Performance Strategy of playing the best v the best?

Are we running the real risk of losing another talented youngster because of out of date thinking at coaching level? What is Scotland’s loss could ultimately be Spain’s gain.


About Author


Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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