Player Zone: Charting Jack Harrison’s unusual route to his Leeds loan move

Until January this year, many English football fans would have been forgiven for not knowing the name Jack Harrison at all, despite him being an U21 international for Aidy Boothroyd’s Young Lions. This was because, although he was involved with both Liverpool and Manchester United’s academies as a child, Harrison has taken an unusual route to the top.

Having just signed a season-long loan deal with Leeds in the Championship, we at Football FanCast decided to take a look at how the Manchester City winger spent his formative years.

At 14 years old, Harrison went to the United States – a move that players from England have tended to choose as a retirement option rather than one to aid their development. After playing High School and College football, the now 21-year-old was entered into the MLS SuperDraft.

Much like in NFL, the draft system aims to keep Major League Soccer as an even playing field by allowing the team who finished bottom of the league the previous year to take first pick of the players from colleges across the US, with the team who won the MLS Cup picking last.

In 2016 Harrison was the number one pick in the SuperDraft, despite being the youngest player available, and was chosen by Chicago Fire. However, he was then immediately ‘traded’ to New York City FC for the number four pick and ‘general allocation money’.

New York City FC midfielder Jack Harrison

Playing alongside Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard in the New York side which was then managed by Patrick Vieira, the right-winger made 23 appearances in his debut season in 2016 and contributed an impressive four goals and six assists.

Harrison’s performances helped NYCFC to second place in the¬†Eastern Conference and many would argue that the first-team experience at such a young age could have only helped his development.

In 2017 the Stoke-born youngster pushed on again, netting 10 goals and providing three assists in 36 appearances. It was this season that brought him into the England national fold and saw him included in the U21 squad for two UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualification games against Scotland and Andorra.

Then in January 2018, Italy legend Pirlo claimed in an interview with talkSPORT that Harrison was capable of playing in Europe. Sure enough, within a week of the interview, Manchester City (Part of the same group as New York City) announced that they had signed the speedster and that he would instantly be loaned to Middlesbrough.

It wasn’t just Pirlo who openly talked up Harrison’s potential, with Frank Lampard claiming that big things were to come from his fellow Englishman.

At Boro though, Harrison found out the difficulties in getting game time as a young English talent. Boro boss Tony Pulis offered him just four substitute appearances in his first senior season back in the UK.

City manager Pep Guardiola holds Leeds’ new boss Marcelo Bielsa in such a high regard though that he has trusted him with one of his top young talents for the season. If Harrison is given a chance he could thrive under the Argentine and will learn plenty to help him with his future career on the blue side of Manchester. It may have been an unusual route to here for Harrison but he now looks on course to be in there with the pool of exciting English talent currently emerging.