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Jack Harper’s exclusion shows everything wrong with Scottish football

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On Tuesday, news broke of Jack Harper being surprisingly snubbed by Scotland U19 coach Ricky Sbragia in his latest squad for this week’s UEFA elite round fixtures against Austria, Italy and Croatia.

The highly-rated Real Madrid youngster has netted 16 goals in all competitions and played a starring role in the Spanish side’s UEFA Youth league matches this season.

Midway through a five-year deal at the Bernabeu, securing his future at the club until he turns 21, Harper, now 19, has lived in Spain all his life and has seen his contract renewed twice since his first deal in 2012.

He has been coached by Fernando Morientes and should, soon, make the step up to Castilla, managed by Zinedine Zidane. But many can’t understand how Harper is deemed good enough for Madrid’s youth team, but is being left out of Scotland’s youth side.

Confusion has now turned into shock after Sbragia explained his decision.

“Our concentration is on the opening game with Austria and we’ve deliberately got more height in our squad. That’s one of the reasons why Jack isn’t in,” the former Sunderland manager said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see enough of him in action. The last time he was with us, he did OK, but I wanted a little more impact. At Real Madrid he can float all over the place, which he does. But with us, he has to be more disciplined.

“He’s an exceptionally gifted lad, but sometimes we can’t carry him. He can be a luxury sometimes. In some cases, if it’s going well, he can be a good luxury.”

The talk of height stands out. On that, if that is the decision as to why he hasn’t been included, it’s an outrageous one. The lack of players who can turn a match in an instance or have an eye for assisting or scoring, is baffling.

What about Ryan Gauld? Tipped as Scotland’s most promising talent, standing at just over 5.5ft tall. Oh and a certain Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, who’s an inch taller than Gauld, would probably have too much flair, dribbling and scoring abilities to impress Sbragia. Funny, that, Harper is over 6ft tall and is still dubbed unneeded.

Having seen Harper’s ability and understood his will to play for Scotland, and seen the national team suffer with no quality players — what Sbragia would describe as ‘luxury’ — throughout the years of Harper’s development, it is near impossible to understand his exclusion.

Sbragia is almost certainly not a full-time coach and one of the main complaints of who are employed at international level is the lack of contact with their players. One of the comforts, though, is having plenty of time to pick the suitable, in this case, 18 who will represent their country.

Why hasn’t the coach seen a lot of Harper? Games in the Madrid youth system are understandably, easy to follow. Sbragia could have easily taken time out to trail Harper’s development, watching six or seven matches in person or even getting feedback via scouting or through a journalist.

It’s embarrassing to think about the Scottish perception of what you need to be successful. Leaving out potential stars, making way for players who can win headers and tackle harder.

Harper’s imposing attributes should be taken advantage of. If Sbragia’s aims are the way forward then the nation should get ready to lose out on more budding talent. And you wonder why the national team struggle.

Scotland have a Real Madrid player on their books, but instead choose players from Dunfermline Athletic and Crewe Alexandra. Everything wrong with Scottish football is summed up in this obscene story.

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