Meet the Scottish footballer keen to make his mark at Madrid.
Mark Wotte can see similarities between a young Robin van Persie and Jack Harper.
That could be very good news, indeed, for Scotland. While the Dutchman is a household name, many of the Tartan Army will be unfamiliar with Harper.
But he’s the only player eligible for Gordon Strachan to play in dark blue who is on the books of Real Madrid.
SFA Performance Director Wotte had Van Persie as a teenager at Feyenoord, and now has the Real starlet in the Scotland youth set-up. So he’s well placed to make the comparison.
The overall assessment of the coaching staff at the Bernabeu is that Harper ‘has the rare ability to completely surprise defences’. High praise, indeed, for the 18-year-old attacking midfielder.
But for all the compliments, Harper is grounded, articulate and well-mannered. It is evident he is focused and determined to fulfil his potential.
As he enters a vital season in his career, Harper revealed: “I was born in Spain. Mum (Tracey) and Dad (John) moved out there when Mum was pregnant with me.
“I played for my hometown team, Fuengirola. From the age of 13, however, I had big Spanish clubs interested, such as Sevilla and Villarreal. I had settled on Sevilla because they were just an hour from home.
“Real Madrid, though, came in at the last minute and I had no hesitation in signing. I’ve always supported them and to sign for them was just incredible. They contacted me, I played two games for them and signed while I was still just 13.
“I was on yearly contracts until two years ago when they gave me a five-year deal. That was encouraging.
“I moved on my own to Madrid. They have a boarding school there, with many other young footballers whose parents are not able to move to Madrid. The club want us all to be good people. They encourage us to stick in at school. So at the end of this coming season, I will weigh everything up. But I might go to university next year, to do something linked to sport.
“But I do want to make it as a footballer at the highest level. It’s getting very serious now. Real sign big-name players, but they try to bring through players from the youth system. It’s important for the club to do that, and the fans want to see it too. Everyone gets excited when a youth gets his chance in the first-team squad, but it’s hard to make the step up at the Bernabeu. If you don’t make it at Real, you’re still given an excellent grounding to have a career at another club.
“I have three years left on my contract, and this is a massive season for me because it’s my last in the youth set-up. So I need to do well and score lots of goals. Last season I scored 25 goals, and the year before that I was the top goalscorer. My best football is in the opposition half. I like playing behind the main striker and I can also play wide.”
Harper has been coached by some of the very best, such as Fernando Morientes and Zinedine Zidane. The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as top-team gaffer has also been a positive. He’s interested in the next generation of players, whereas his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, gave them a wide berth.
Harper said: “I’ve had a different coach every year in the Real youth system and they’re brilliant. Last season I had Morientes, and being one of the very best attacking players of his day, I picked up so much. He gave me good advice about being a footballer and taught me many things about the game.
“Zinedine Zidane has just taken over as manager of our second team, Castilla. Last season he was Ancelotti’s assistant. Ancelotti watches us and we get invited to train with the first team, different to Jose.
“We play bounce games against the first-team players, usually the ones that didn’t feature the previous weekend. Zinedine would often watch us train and play, and offer advice. He’s very enthusiastic about the youth set-up because he has three sons involved. Enzo is a year older than me but we’ve played together, while his younger brothers are a goalkeeper and defender respectively.”
Harper and his team-mates regularly rub shoulders with the Galacticos, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. But the Scots lad doesn’t get starry-eyed. He admitted: “I was overwhelmed at first. That was to be expected. But after that I realised they are all normal people at Real Madrid.”
Harper’s Scottish roots mean his feet stay firmly on the ground, and he returns home every year to visit relatives on the outskirts of Glasgow.
He smiled: “I speak Spanish because I attended Spanish-speaking schools from primary age. But Mum and Dad always spoke in English and I’m very proud of my Scottish accent.
“They’re both very supportive and it was Dad’s dream for me to become a professional footballer.”
Bet he didn’t think it would be with Real Madrid!