It’s easy to feel a measure of sympathy for Jack Harper, the Spanish-born Scotland footballer currently on the books at Real Madrid. Through no fault of his own, the 19-year has set off a debate in Scottish soccer that has seen the likes of Craig Brown, Ian Cathro, Kevin Gallacher and Graham Hunter all weigh in with their opinions.
So what’s been the cause of this very Scottish controversy? Scotland Under-19 coach Ricky Sbragia opted to leave Jack Harper out from his squad. A surprise decision perhaps but one that Sbragia has every right to do as he is the coach. However it was his justification for Harper’s omission that has prompted the outcry and led to a larger discussion about the direction of the game in Scotland.
Before we delve in to the intricacies of this debate, it’s important to know what Sbragia said. Building up to the matches against Austria, Italy and Croatia, Sbragia explained:
“Our concentration is on the opening game with Austria (which Scotland won 2:1) and we’ve deliberately got more height in our squad. That’s one of the reasons why Jack isn’t in.
“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.
“Listen, Jack’s time will come. The last time I spoke to him, he wanted to really settle in at Real Madrid and find a place there. That’s been a big thing for him. I’ve gone with the boys I’ve seen most in the last six months. We keep tabs on Jack and see video clips of him. We have people over there who keep their eye on him.
“There are others I’ve left out like Dominic Thomas at Motherwell who will have gripes that they’re not in the squad. But I’ve picked a group of 18 which will hopefully do well for us. It’s my opinion and I’m not saying it’s right. But the squad I’ve picked is an extremely strong one.
“I can only pick 18 when I really could have picked 26 or 27. I’ve gone for a physical side and runners. Hopefully I’m right. It’s purely tactical and there certainly hasn’t been a lack of enthusiasm from Jack about playing for Scotland.”
There are quite a few things to unpack in that statement.