John Nicholson is a little bit in love with Leeds United’s two-footed flier Jack Harrison. And not just because he’s a good-looking b*stard…
Who’s this then?
Jack David Harrison is a 25-year-old 5‘ 9” Stoke-born, Bolton-raised winger who plays for Leeds United and scored his first hat-trick for the club last week.
Picked as a special talent when only little, he spent a year at Liverpool youth academy and seven at Manchester United. However, when just 14 he took an usual and brave step to move to the USA with his mam to attend Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, where he also represented their affiliated club team, Black Rock FC.
In 2015, aged 19, he was the Gatorade National Player of the Year for high-school soccer. He subsequently entered the 2016 MLS SuperDraft as the youngest available player and was the #1 overall pick by Chicago Fire and traded to New York City FC for the #4 overall pick, Brandon Vincent, plus cash.
He had to get over a fractured pelvis before making his NYCFC debut. In an impressive first season he became the club’s first teenage goalscorer, was nominated for MLS Rookie of the Year Award and was runner-up for goal of the season.
His second season in New York was even better, seeing him garner a lot of praise for his 10 goals in 37 games. So much so that Manchester City (NYC are part of the City Group of sports washers) licked its lips and signed him, immediately loaning him out to the mighty Middlesbrough who were managed by Tony Pulis at the time. But not being a centre-half, he only got four games, then he was loaned out again to Leeds and he played all of 2018-19 for them, impressing again. The Yorkshire club wanted to sign him but City now wanted £20million, even though he’d never played for them, which seems a bit rich. He went back to Leeds for another season on loan, helped get them promoted, played a third loan season at Elland Road before being signed for £11million on a permanent deal last summer until 2024.
He scored three goals against West Ham last week and, now 25 years old, is a crucial player in Marcelo Bielsa’s team. He’s now played 146 games for the whites and scored 24 times.
Why the love?
First up, it has to be said he’s a very good-looking fella, even allowing for the inevitable top knot. Has that strong jaw and lovely smooth skin which perhaps betrays his teenage years being spent in the USA getting well fed and well trained and not having to go through the more traditional English teenage rituals of getting lasses pregnant and drinking White Lightning, usually at the same time.
To be a constant starter for a Bielsa team, you have to be able and prepared to run and run and run and then run some more. And Jack is the veritable Energizer bunny. He is fast and strong on the ball and off the ball. With a relatively low centre of gravity, he’s got super-fast feet which takes him past defenders and when coupled with his physicality makes him hard to stop. Sometimes, he cleverly sort of leans into the opposition as a way of blocking them off the ball, turning them almost.
A left footer usually playing on the left is more rare than it once was, looking at his clips, it looks to me he is actually good enough with his right to be called two-footed. I know that some American trainers put a lot of emphasis on this, given it gives you such advantages. It constantly amazes many of us that high profile players playing for high profile clubs still have one foot that is basically a baseball bat made of our skin and blood and good for almost nothing. You’d think they’d at least try to use both feet.
He can operate on the right and cut in and he has been used as more of a playmaker. He’s got a sweet touch and can deliver a superb crossed ball with the outside of his foot, curving it into the path of an onrushing striker.
That hat-trick against West Ham showed a player who came in off the left, the right and through the middle. That shows just how Bielsa is using his players in a flexible system. There’s nothing rigid about it. His goals to date show a player who can pick up the rebounds and scraps, someone who can shoot from distance, shoot on the run and do so from either side.
So we have a player that runs all day, that works hard, that has great control and touch on the move and who scores as many as he assists (eight goals eight assists last season). It’s no wonder he’s so popular with Leeds fans and at £11million looks like a steal in contrast to many, many more expensive, much worse players.
Three great moments
That hat-trick v West Ham United.
If anyone was in any doubt about how good he is, these clips should prove it…
Scoring against useless Newcastle might not be the toughest task but he finishes this with some ease…
What the people say
– Never moans to ref, always gets straight up after a bad challenge, has no ego, works incredibly hard, tracks back, works harder during the summer when he seems to enjoy keeping fit and healthy. When he scores they are usually beautiful, technical goals. Generally nice person.
– Skilled, but more importantly fully committed to improving year on year, as his track record at Leeds shows. He is tremendously determined. Also, he has nice eyebrows.
First touch of a quilt. Equally, when the mood takes him is just as happy to hit the ball like he’s trying to kill it and everyone in front of him. Did some workout home videos to stay “Bielsa fit” during lockdown with his girlfriend which looked akin to some sort of <redacted>
— Andy Bob (@kingandybob) January 21, 2022
– Would boost the ‘handsomeness quota’ in any team.
– A first touch so soft and dreamy it would make talcum powder feel like a bed of nails in comparison
– Washboard abs and manicured eyebrows.
His contract is up in two years so expect an extension to be offered this summer. While Leeds fans know his worth, it doesn’t look like he’s on any of the moneybags clubs radar just yet, Leeds injury-hit difficult first half of this season and subsequent occupation of lower places in the league has seen to that. This is greatly to Leeds’ advantage as they do have a squad of players, many of whom are absolutely fantastic and would be a great acquisition for the super rich clubs but they probably think it’d be like shopping in Aldi rather than Waitrose to lower themselves to buy a player from a bottom third of the league, let alone pay a lot of money for them. Newcastle are the exception to this, of course, who are prepared to buy a massive wheelbarrow of beef mince to play up front, or indeed anywhere.
Will he get asked to be in the full England squad though? He is flexible and can play at least three positions, so that is in his favour. Nothing gets you into a squad quicker than being able to cover more than one role. Also the fact he’s a lefty and can play a pure left wing role gives him a point of difference, add in the fact that club mate Kalvin Phillips has become a linchpin in Gareth Southgate’s teams and all in all, a call up to a squad is not the most far-out of imaginings. It is a sign of England’s strength in depth that such a great player could be left out.
This is his fifth season at Leeds and they look likely to be one of those clubs who rise up the league in the last third of the season once they get all their players back. This may well put Jack more in the spotlight and he will garner more fans outside of West Yorkshire. A superb player with a great future, and one with much to thank Bielsa for.