Not many Manchester United academy players envision a future in the internationally-maligned arena of Major League Soccer. Not many prospects would jump ship from United’s famed academy in favor of a private school in rural Massachusetts.
Then again, not everyone is Jack Harrison.
Speaking to ESPN FC this March, the second-year NYCFC player expressed no regrets. If anything, it was precisely the opposite.
"I remember a lot of the kids I played with only thought about playing professionally – they had a kind of tunnel vision,” is how Harrison put it. “It was great they knew what they wanted but it was also a bit naive."
Despite Harrison’s insistence on his independent plan, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that his fellow academy brethren – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Joe Riley – have had success which undoubtedly surpasses Jack’s performance in the MLS.
Borthwick-Jackson and Riley are currently on loan in the English Football League, while James Wilson (one year ahead of Harrison), is on loan in the Championship.
Marcus Rashford, the 19-year old Manchester United phenom, was one year behind Harrison in the club’s academy.
Then again, none of this was Harrison’s choice. His mother, Debbie Harrison, claims to have seen through the bureaucratic gridlock of the British academy system.
Speaking to the New York Times, Debbie made her position quite clear.
“It’s a factory system, isn’t it? They go into these academies, and they kind of become a number,” she said.
Despite the success stories of British academy players, including Manchester United products Rashford, Paul Pogba, and Danny Welbeck, these narratives are statistically dwarfed by those who fail to reach these heights.
Raising Jack on her own in working-class Bolton, England, Debbie Harrison refused to allow her son to became a footballing flameout with limited career prospects.
Debbie, against the odds, ferried Jack to the Berkshire school in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Tuition at Berkshire runs about $50,000 per year.
Jon Moodey, Berkshire’s soccer couch, vouched for the young man, who required significant grants for four years of elite schooling, despite the fact that he had never seen him play – thanks to Manchester United refusing to release any video of Harrison.
This failure to release video can be seen as a last-minute play by the British giants to keep Harrison within their confines.
We all know what happened next. From Berkshire to Wake Forest to the Chicago Fire (ever so briefly) to New York City Football Club, Jack, with 12 goals and 9 assists in 47 league appearances, has emerged as a major figure both in the Bronx and in MLS as a whole.
The question is, what does the future hold?
Unsurprisingly, Harrison has expressed an interest in taking his talents back across the pond.
What may complicate his path, however, is how he feels about international football.
As of writing, Harrison is an Englishman, despite the fact that he has never worn England’s lion crest on the international level.
Patrick Viera has stood up for his winger, explaining, “I’m quite surprised he hasn’t received any calls at least for the Under-21 because I think he needs to be looked at.”
With British animosity towards the quality of the MLS and its ability to produce quality players, Harrison, who turns 21 in November, appears unlikely to ever get that call from across the pond.
He could, however, follow ex-countryman Dom Dwyer’s path and force his way onto the radar of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
In order to do so, however, Harrison would need to make a difficult decision.
Harrison secured his green card in March, meaning that he must reside in the U.S. for the next five years, continuously, to become a citizen and become eligible to represent the United States at the international level.
If Harrison stays stateside, however, he would be relegated to what would add up to an at-least eight year stint in Major League Soccer.
It is hard to imagine that Harrison could ever reach the European club heights he appears to be aiming for if he stays in the MLS for that long.
If Harrison receives an offer from a European club, he is going to have weigh his club football pursuits – and personal development – with his National Team ambitions.
Eventually, when that time comes, Harrison will have to answer a simple question: is he willing to give up on his international footballing dreams in pursuit of European club play?
As Harrison has already reportedly attracted the interest of “one or two” Premier League sides, along with a bevy Championship sides, it appears that he’s going to have to make this decision in the near future.
With Cyle Larin – a player with whom Harrison is somewhat comparable – getting legitimate calls from Beskitas, the reigning champions of Turkey’s Süper Lig, it is difficult to see Harrison remaining stateside for the next five years.
Classic footballing knowledge would predict that Harrison will pursue a return to Europe, leaving behind any international footballing dreams he may have had.
Then again, when has Harrison ever followed conventional footballing norms?