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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

New York City FC winger Jack Harrison travels circuitous route to make England U21 side

A Stoke-born Liverpool supporter who took his first serious steps in football as part of Manchester United’s academy might seem like an unlikely poster boy for City Football Group’s global project.

In almost every other way possible, though, Jack Harrison represents just the sort of role model to which the thousands of young footballers enrolled in City coaching programmes in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere should aspire.

As a tricky winger, the 21-year-old has the skills that fit the overall attack-minded philosophy the project, with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at its apex, pertains to.

And he has quite the back story, too, one which has at its core a commitment to education and life skills that have made his rise to where he is today all the more remarkable.

In October, the New York City fans’ favourite was called into the England Under 21 squad for a game against Scotland. He eventually appeared as a substitute for Tammy Abraham, the Chelsea striker currently on loan at Swansea City.

Harrison had long dreamt of international representative honours, as well as a professional career in the game. He has gone a circuitous route about reaching there, after his mother Debbie had removed him from the mainstream of the game in England in favour of a move to the United States.

“I was playing at Manchester United’s academy, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to my school work – not as much as my mother would have liked,” said Harrison, who is in Abu Dhabi with a group of his New York City teammates.

“She wanted a back-up plan if I wasn’t able to play anymore, if I had an injury or something happened. She did all the research and found schools that offered football scholarships.”

He passed the entry test for Berkshire School in Massachusetts, and went for a five-day trip to view the campus alone, as they could not afford for both he and his mother to travel.

He loved the place, but was still fearful of what a move across the Atlantic would do to his career prospects.

“When my mum first introduced the idea to me, I was very apprehensive because a lot of the kids in the academy are tunnel-vision, narrow-minded, and just want to make it to the first team,” he said.

“That is exactly how I was: very ambitious. But listening to my mum, being open-minded about it, and visiting the campus, I knew it was where I wanted to go.”

Jack Harrison has the skills that fit the attack-minded philosophy the Manchester City project pertains to. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Jack Harrison has the skills that fit the attack-minded philosophy the Manchester City project pertains to. Chris Whiteoak / The National

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Having being drafted to the MLS after school, Harrison caught the eye as soon as he had made it to the New York City line up aged 19, and has excelled consistently since.

Still, though, the United States league is generally out of sight when it comes to England selection – or so he thought.

“I had no idea. It was a complete surprise,” Harrison said of his selection for the matches against Scotland and Andorra.

“I found out literally minutes before a game in Chicago, when Patrick Vieira, my coach, said: ‘You are leaving for England tomorrow, you have made it to England U21’. I was so shocked.

“It was a great opportunity, and I am thankful for that experience as well. It was eye-opening, to see where I was at compared to other players my age in England, and whether this pathway I had taken had been detrimental to my career, and hopes and dreams.

“But I was able to hold my own with the guys. It was an excellent experience.”

A post shared by Jack Harrison (@jackharrison11) on

Harrison had to fork out US$1,500 (more than Dh5,500) to make it to meet up with his new England colleagues – none of whom he had met before – on time, after missing the flight that had been booked for him.

He had been stuck in New York traffic, which is just the sort of story about life on the other side of the pond with which he could regale a surprisingly captivate audience.

“They surprised me, because they were really intrigued by the American lifestyle, and where I was living in New York City,” Harrison said of his England colleagues.

“They were asking lots of questions, and it was nice to have that right off the bat, meeting them for the first time.”

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