Firstly, congratulations to Jack Harrison on representing the England U21’S. A fantastic achievement considering all the obstacles Jack has had to overcome. Jack left the Man Utd academy and moved to Massachusetts. Jack continued playing Football in America becoming a star in college. A requirement to play in the MLS is that you complete college and graduate. Jack was selected at no 1 in the MLS draft and via a trade ended up at New York City. What fascinates me is not Jack himself, he clearly had talent, you don’t have spells at Liverpool and Man United if not, it is what this can mean for the MLS going forward.
We are all aware of the Jamie Vardy story, a player going from Non-League Football to Premier League champion. This is what we view the traditional hard route to the top of the game, I think the case of Jack is much more a story of perseverance. Scouts across England are all to aware that there are talented players in the non-league who have slipped through the net. Players who will have been released by a top side, players who have a certain technical deficiency such as height, strength or maybe a poor touch that a previous club was not prepared to take the time to work on or let the player develop. Nevertheless, these players will be watched by English clubs further up the pyramid, looking to find a bargain, on a regular basis. If the player has developed physically or improved technically through their own hard work they will get a chance. Charlie Austin, Chris Smalling, Danny Ings, and Andre Gray are just a few examples in addition to Vardy of players who have reached the top. There is a pathway that can be trodden, not so much for a young player moving to America.
It is never easy for English players who have moved abroad to break into the international set up in England. Owen Hargreaves and Eric Dier are the two standouts in recent times. Owen Hargreaves was playing for Bayern Munich, the powerhouse of German Football. Chances are that if you qualify to play for England and are representing Bayern Munich you will get a call-up, your credentials will not be questioned. Even Hargreaves though only became a regular at the World Cup in 2006, I know that competition was fierce at the time but even his inclusion in the squad was criticised by the English press. Eric Dyer came through at Sporting Lisbon, I don’t know if you are aware but they produced a fairly good attacking midfielder in recent times. It wasn’t until Eric moved back to England with Tottenham that he finally broke into the senior squad. These two examples highlight how tough it has been to get into the England squad when not playing in the Premier League. You’re viewed with suspicion and a lack of trust. The Premier League is clearly the best league in the world, Sky Sports told me.
I think that with Jack’s call-up this could well change. Many players will be released from England’s top clubs and find themselves playing their trade in non-league or further down the football league pyramid. These young players who have been used to the best facilities, and playing alongside the best young talent from around the world, are suddenly trying to survive against Adebayo Akinfenwa. As admiral as it is when somebody makes it through the system this way, there has to be a better way. If like me you put yourself through the torture of watching England through blind loyalty you see the glaringly obvious, there is little creativity. Jack Harrison when he arrived at New York City was playing with Pirlo, Lampard, and David Villa, maybe just a tiny upgrade from Akinfenwa. You are going to become better playing with these players. Jack also remained with access to top facilities, there was no Blackpool away on a Tuesday night to deal with. Crucially he has learned to cope being away from home in a foreign land, this is something England players have struggled with at tournaments.
The MLS has always been able to attract the older stars, this can be exploited by young players in England. They can go out to America gain a good education and get the opportunity to learn from some of the best to of ever played the game. There has been a recent trend in young English players moving to different countries to learn their skills, Jadon Sancho and Borussia Dortmund is an example. The MLS could benefit from having some extremely talented young players entering the league. Jack Harrison has broken a barrier, you don’t have to be David Beckham in the MLS to get the chance to represent England. Don’t be surprised to see more make the move across the pond.