THE decision to omit Real Madrid teenager Jack Harper from the Scotland under-19 squad this week provoked a mix of uproar and bemusement.
Manager Ricky Sbragia decided against picking Harper because he believes he is not physically strong enough to play in the Uefa Elite Round matches which begin today with a game against hosts Austria.
One of the unwitting beneficiaries of the decision is likely to be striker Oliver McBurnie, a striker who currently plies his trade in the English Conference with Chester.
Harper’s replacement does not have Zinedine Zidane as a coach or the luxury of a five-year deal with Real. McBurnie is currently on loan at Chester from Bradford City. However, the 18-year-old is in agreement with Sbragia that Scotland need to be physical in their three games which start this afternoon in Vienna against hosts Austria, before facing Italy on Saturday and Croatia next week.
And he’s had plenty of practice playing for Chester against the likes of Alfreton Town, Dartford and Lincoln City’s grizzled defenders.
McBurnie said: “Obviously, Jack hasn’t made the squad, but it’s good to know it’s not just about reputations. If they do come and watch you and you do well then you get the rewards for that.
“The boys are confident and we know we have quality in this team and an ability to hurt the opposition. If we stick to the game-plan and play how we know we can play we’ve got a chance. It’s tough against the hosts, Italy and Croatia for that matter but we want to test ourselves against the best. They’re all good sides and hopefully we can go out there and prove a point. They’re going to be big and powerful sides but we see ourselves in that bracket as well. Hopefully we can cope with that and let our football do the talking.”
Harper’s father, meanwhile, has reportedly warned Scotland that they risk losing his son to Spain. Harper was born in Malaga but his parents are Scottish.
John Harper, who is from Barrhead but emigrated to Spain, was quoted as saying: “The day after Scotland announced the under-19 squad, and Jack wasn’t included, Spain were on the phone asking about his position and international status. Their national academy is just a few miles from Real Madrid’s own training ground, so they know about Jack because they watch his team often enough.
“Jack wants to play for Scotland. I’m Scottish, so is his mum and the rest of the family. He is committed to Scotland, but if nothing is happening by the time he is 21 then he will have a decision to make because he has a life and a career to fulfil. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.”
Sbragia explained his decision not to pick Harper by saying: “He’s an exceptionally gifted lad but we can’t carry him. He can be a luxury sometimes.
“We’ve gone for more height in our squad. That’s one of the reasons Jack isn’t in it.
“I’ve gone for a physical side and runners. It’s purely a tactical decision.”
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