First, Sbragia hasn’t banished Jack Harper into the international wilderness. It is entirely feasible that if Harper progresses into the Real Madrid first team squad (easier said than done), he will in all likelihood become a full Scottish international on the proviso he’s not capped by Spain first.
Second, he mentioned height which is a rather more confusing justification. Harper stands at 6ft 1in so he’s not exactly on the short side — sleight perhaps but not small. Was Sbragia more concerned about the Real Madrid player’s heading ability? Former Scottish international Kevin Gallacher was dubious citing his own playing career:
“I don’t believe in it. I stood at 5ft 8ins and under 11 stone when I played my best. It’s about the talent, how you can play for that team and if you fit into it. For me, that’s a football player.”
Third, Sbragia admitted that he didn’t see Harper enough. Now that is an interesting statement to say the least though he did qualify that by stating that there are people there observing Harper’s progress. Spanish football expert Graham Hunter (who happens to be a Scot) was scathing in his assessment when the Scotland U-19 coach made that admission. Hunter reasonably claimed:
“This coach isn’t in a full-time club job, and one of the complaints of all who coach at international level is the lack of day-to-day contact with players.
“What they DO have is time. Time to study, time to follow players’ development. If Ricky hasn’t seen a lot of Jack … then WHY not?
“Games in the Madrid youth system are easy to follow, there’s no reason not to have taken in five or six of them in person or via a scout”.
Another point worth raising is that if Sbragia didn’t see Harper enough, then how can he label the youngster a ‘luxury’ player? Surely to form that kind of conclusion the coaching and scouting team at the very least should have seen him play enough times at Real Madrid and in close quarters to make that decision. Again Hunter shot down Sbragia’s assessment and conduct:
“Quality is never a luxury. High technique is never a luxury. If the coach has an issue with Jack’s work rate he should a] tell him in private b] help alter that.
“Personally, having seen how Jack plays, understanding his will to play for Scotland, and having suffered too long without Scotland having sufficient high quality players in our playing pool I think this is a retrograde step, almost impossible to understand and extremely disappointing”.
Is the footballing public being seduced by the name Real Madrid? It’s not every day that a Scottish talent is progressing at one of the leading clubs in world soccer but then again there’s no guarantee that Harper will fulfill his potential. Former Scotland boss Craig Brown opined:
“The name Real Madrid hypnotizes people. They have hundreds of development players; you can’t simply say because he plays for Real Madrid he’s got to play for Scotland.”
That said Graham Hunter made the point that the Real Madrid youth system is not a place for those short of the highest quality:
“They cull every year if you’re not good enough, if you’re not athletic enough, if you’re not intelligent enough, if you’re not professional enough – you’re out”.
Finally, Sbragia said that the choice to omit Harper was a purely tactical one. This is a tough statement to consider too. Is the focus purely results driven hence the decision to take a more physical approach? Is Harper incompatible with the other players in the Scotland Under-19 squad? Is this the footballing identity that Scotland wants to pursue? The under-19 coach explained:
“It would be great to have eleven technical players, but that doesn’t happen now. The more games I see, the more it is becoming physical and the height factor. It has gone back to that now.