Harper knows it is time to let his feet talk to earn call-up

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FOOTBALL - STE­WART FISHER

THE sum­mer re­cess ar­rived at the wrong time for Jack Harper. This time last year, the 20-year-old, whose omis­sion from Ricky Sbra­gia’s Un­der-19 side briefly be­came such a cause cele­bre, was up­root­ing him­self from the Real Madrid youth sys­tem and start­ing again on the English Riviera at Brighton and Hove Al­bion.

As it hap­pened, the up­heaval took place at the same time as he was deal­ing with the first sig­nif­i­cant in­jury of his young ca­reer, bone bruis­ing on his knee. Out for the open­ing months of the cam­paign, and de­prived of a proper pre­sea­son, it wasn’t un­til late in the year that this Malaga-born Scot truly felt he was get­ting up to speed with the English game. This, of course, was far too late to make in­roads into a Brighton squad un­der Chris Hughton which was win­ning most weeks and push­ing for au­to­matic pro­mo­tion to the Bar­clays Premier League.

It was a sim­i­lar story with Scot­land. While eight goals in 15 games for Brighton’s Un­der-21 side in the Cat­e­gory 1 English youth league was a rea­son­able re­turn, first-team football is the be all an end all at that age. While the SFA made reg­u­lar checks on his progress, it was hardly a sur­prise that Sbra­gia – now Scot­land Un­der-21 coach – kept faith with play­ers such as Ryan Fraser, Ryan Christie, Ryan Gauld, Ja­son Cum­mings, Sam Ni­chol­son and Bar­rie McKay who have all been get­ting their share.

Harper’s fa­ther John, orig­i­nally from Bar­rhead, re­vealed last March that Spain re­tained an in­ter­est and warned that Scot­land could be in dan­ger of los­ing his son’s ser­vices, but the player him­self knows that it is sim­ply time to do his talk­ing on the pitch. He said he has never been fit­ter and more mo­ti­vated to hit the ground run­ning for the start of next sea­son and his loy­alty to play for Scot­land is not in doubt. While a place in the Brighton first team is his main goal, he re­stated his de­ter­mi­na­tion to play for his coun­try if se­lected and urged Sbra­gia and the SFA scouts to check out his progress. He has one year left on his cur­rent deal at the south-coast club, who lost out ag­o­nis­ingly to Sh­effield Wed­nes­day at the play­off semi­fi­nal stage.

“I fin­ished the sea­son very well but it was right at the end of the sea­son,” Harper told Her­ald Sport. “I am still learn­ing a dif­fer­ent style of game, a dif­fer­ent kind of cul­ture. I was still get­ting to grips with ev­ery­thing then it fin­ished re­ally soon for me so that is why I am so ex­cited to start next sea­son.

“I was train­ing with the Brighton first team now and again and play­ing a few bounce games but they were con­tenders to go up and they didn’t have too many in­juries,” he added. “It was a great sea­son for the first team, so there were not many chances for me. But hope­fully next sea­son I will be on their level.

“Chris Hughton has told me to be pa­tient, and that I will get the chance to show what I can do from the first day I am back. This is the top half of the Cham­pi­onship, so if I could get in I would be more or less play­ing for a team at Bar­clays Premier League level.

“Ricky is more than wel­come to come down and watch me when­ever he can, I’ll be 100%, work­ing hard and hope­fully I get the chance. I have only just turned 20 and I’d be de­lighted if I got the call. I have al­ways said I want to play for Scot­land, it is al­ways ex­cit­ing to get called up, and I would be there any time he calls me.”

While the 2015-16 sea­son was a test of pa­tience for Harper, he hopes he may just be stronger for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The in­jury wasn’t a com­mon one, it was a bruised bone – with in­ter­nal bleed­ing in­side the knee,” Harper added. “No-one re­ally knew how long it was go­ing to be. It could have been one, two months or it could have been a year out. So six months was quite a speedy re­cov­ery. It was a kind of weird in­jury that re­quired a lot of pa­tience, and I have not re­ally been 100% un­til about a cou­ple of weeks ago.

“The aim is to get in a match­day squad and then take it from there. I have been try­ing to get stronger, try­ing to be like these first team play­ers, who are all big, strong guys. Then hope­fully next year I will be on the bench, and hope­fully get my de­but. I am happy here – English football is prob­a­bly the best football in the world right now, ev­ery­thing is great. Now I am just giv­ing it 100% to try to get in the first team.”

NOT IN DOUBT: Jack Harper is as com­mit­ted to Scot­land as ever

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