In his controversial book Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that one of the major factors behind success is being in the right place at the right time. Of course, there is no denying that there are always other factors at play. In the case of a career in football, being in the right place at the right time can only be useful if it is exploited by performance.
New York City FC’s 20-year-old winger, Jack Harrison, is one of the most talked about players in North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) at the moment. In 2016 Vice Sports produced a feature on the English-born player entitled “This British 19-year-old is the future of MLS”.
Indeed, a lot has been said by the media concerning the performances of Harrison over the past two years. He is currently on eight goals and five assists in 18 games since the start of his second season in New York. But his story is not just about numbers.
The English-born fan favourite is known for getting his home crowds out of their seats with scintillating runs, creativity and exciting dribbles. When Harrison is in possession of the ball he has a dogged determination to move it as directly towards goal as possible, making short work of his opponents along the way. A 2016 MLS Opta Spotlight revealed that the young winger was among the most direct dribblers who possessed the highest ball carrying distances in the league.
Naturally, there are those who point to his success at New York City and ask what’s next for the exciting starlet. More than just being the “future of MLS”, Harrison has what it takes to realistically aspire to Europe’s top leagues. Such is his talent that, according to Empire Of Soccer NYC coach Patrick Vieira recently expressed surprise that Harrison has not yet been called to the England Under-21 squad. Others have suggested he would be an asset to the United States Men’s National Team, for which he is eligible to play in a few years.
While the pundits and reporters seem to have exhausted the discussion of how Harrison’s performances promise him a bright future, few have looked at how he is perfectly poised in the right place, at the right time, to exploit his current success.
MLS is certainly not considered to be the best league in the world although its quality and popularity in North America has risen in recent years. Nevertheless, being at the New York club gives Harrison an edge over many other talented young players in the United States and in Europe seeking to realize their potential.
One reason for this, is that NYC currently boasts outstanding talent. Since joining the team, Harrison has been playing alongside international legends like ex-Barcelona and former Spanish international David Villa as well as Italy’s renowned playmaker Andrea Pirlo, formerly of Juventus and AC Milan. Frank Lampard of England and Chelsea fame was also a teammate. Even in the world’s top clubs it is usually only the most elite of young players who have the opportunity to play alongside such famous names.
Also in this team is Venezuela’s Rangel Herrera. The 19-year-old, who played a critical role in taking his country’s Under-20 team to a World Cup final. The experience on and off the pitch that Harrison stands to gain from recognized teammates of this caliber cannot be overstated.
It does no harm to his resume that, as reported by mlssoccer.com, an internationally revered figure like Frank Lampard has publicly praised Harrison calling him a “revelation”. According to the Telegraph, last year, a very telling endorsement also came from David Villa, who said “I’ve spent a lot of years in this game, and he has something important that only a few players have. When he has the ball at his feet, you get the sensation something is going to happen.”
In a Men In Blazers interview , Harrison made special mention of Lampard who mentored him during his time at NYC. Lampard offered support while they were both recovering from injury. He imparted personal advice to the young man on resilience and self-confidence that he himself had received from Jose Mourinho years before.
An ESPN article quoted Harrison on the the impact of David Villa on his personal growth as a footballer. “Just watching him, you learn so much,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that already last year, and I’m hoping to keep improving.”
The young footballer’s exposure to such a high level of talent, professionalism and maturity gives top clubs who are looking at him something else to appreciate beyond his performances on the pitch. Many promising young players owned by Manchester City, NYC’s sister club in the City Football Group, have not had the opportunity to play alongside and learn consistently from world class players like Villa, Lampard and Pirlo, even though Manchester City is a much bigger club. Even fewer of them have had their marketability enhanced by public compliments from famous teammates.
Harrison also profits from the Patrick Vieira factor. As fortune would have it, Vieira replaced former NYC coach Jason Kreis before the start of the 2016 season when Harrison arrived at the club as a rookie. Although New York City represents Vieira’s first senior level coaching job, there is a lot he can contribute to Harrison’s career. Firstly, he brings his own valuable playing experience as a revered French footballer who played and trained under coaching icons like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Fabio Capello at AC Milan and Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.
The new coach has brought his winning mentality to New York City and has pushed Harrison to relentlessly pursue improvement. “Jack still has parts of his game he needs to develop,” Vieira was quoted as saying by mlssoccer.com: “He needs to learn more about himself as a player, as a person and as a man as well and he will need time to do that.”
The World Cup winning Frenchman also brings something extra. In his previous position he was in charge of Manchester City’s footballing academy, considered to be one of the best in the world. At the time his duties involved communicating the club’s playing philosophy to younger players. Under the previous Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, this was a philosophy similar to that of current City boss, Pep Guardiola, involving possession and exciting passing.
The playing qualities of this philosophy are sought after by some of the best clubs in Europe. Jack Harrison, while far removed from the elite academy of Manchester City, is receiving that same training and approach to football through Patrick Vieira, who has brought his City experience to the club. If and when Harrison is ready to make a move to Europe he could fit almost seamlessly into the system of Manchester City or the European clubs to which City loans its players. Indeed, he would be ideal for consideration by progressive clubs that embrace a possession-based game.
The City Football Group gifts Harrison with an impressive network of clubs in Europe, including soon-to-be sister club Girona FC in La Liga and a number of other sides in Holland, France and Spain, to which City are loaning players. Being a part of this group offers him the perfect springboard for a leap to the big leagues.
In keeping with the theme of right place and right time it is interesting to note that destiny brought Jack Harrison to NYC because of an unlikely twist in his story that took place years ago. From the age of six to the age of 13 Harrison was part of the Manchester United youth academy with well-known players like Marcus Rashford and James Wilson.
As his mother explained in the short documentary feature Jack Harrison:Road To City, she saw greater opportunities for his education in the United States and pointed out to him that very few players who attended the academy made it to a successful level. Her argument ultimately convinced the young man and she moved him to the United States for his schooling.
Ironically, Harrison left what others would have considered the perfect place for his footballing development, but through continuing effort as a teenager he eventually found himself at New York City, a team with nowhere near the reputation of Manchester United, but offering him the same and possibly even more in terms of his future development. It is a position that he might not even have arrived at had he stayed in Manchester.
Harrison still has a long way to go to becoming world class. It is a fact of which he is well aware and it is something that his coach Patrick Vieira has emphasized to him. But through hard work, fortune and a decision made by his mother years ago, he has found himself in the right place at the right time to make use of great opportunities. With further perseverance, the correct decisions and a bit of luck, the Englishman in New York can go so much further.