HE HAS long since been given his wings, but there seems little danger of Alex Harris being brought down to earth by whatever adventures await him at Hibernian. He is too grounded for that.
Compared last week to Theo Walcott by a manager who knew there would be little ambiguity in the headlines the following morning, Harris addressed the expectation that is piling up on his 19-year-old shoulders yesterday after signing a new contract that keeps him tied to his beloved Easter Road until 2017.
Harris breaks the mould in many ways, one of which brings to mind Steven Fletcher’s breakthrough period at Hibs. Harris, like Fletcher, has already lost his father, and his attachment to his family is emphasised by the fact that he was not represented in his contract discussions by an agent, entrusting instead his mother and godfather.
His return from injury has reminded Hibs fans of what they have, and Terry Butcher made it one of his first priorities as manager to extend Harris’s contract. Even though his second coming has so far been fairly sobering, featuring defeats by Aberdeen and St Mirren, compliments are coming his way and he is greeting them with an attitude that is neither complacent nor cautious but, well, grounded.
“I’m actually a bit of a Gooner as well so I watch a lot of Theo Walcott,” he revealed yesterday after training at East Mains. “Obviously there are similarities with our games; he is a fast player and hits the byeline.
“I need to add more goals to my game, which he has done, but it is great for the manager to make those comparisons. It is something to aim for and I will buckle down and try to prove my worth. I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself. It’s nice to be compared to Theo Walcott but I’m just focused on playing for Hibs just now.
“The manager said that there’s a possibility of me playing up through the middle soon, and that’s good to hear, but I’m happy to play wherever he plays me. I’m just looking forward to hopefully getting back in the team soon and progressing myself.”
Harris is not yet in the same league as Walcott, in more ways than one. But he was forthcoming about other role models, too, the kind of players who were in the Hibs team when he was an emerging youth – he first joined Hibs aged nine – and two of whom are still there. He was with his under-15 team-mates at Hampden the day in 2007 when John Collins’ team won the League Cup with a 5-1 hammering of Kilmarnock.
“Ivan Sproule was here when I was [a Hibs youth player] and he is quite similar to me, playing on the wing. I remember obviously his goals at Ibrox [in Hibs’ 3-0 win over Rangers in 2005]. Also Brad Donaldson is a big Hibee and I remember the day he was at that game texting me about Ivan scoring,” recalled Harris.
“Even Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson were in the team at that time and that was great to watch. I remember being in the old East Stand and it’s amazing to think how much it’s changed even since then.
“I was at the final. I was with the under-15s and we all got tickets. Sunshine On Leith, I remember that at the end of the game with John Collins, and that was something to cherish, definitely.”
Easter Road this Sunday should be something to cherish, too. Celtic are in town and Sky Sports subscribers will get their chance to view the merits of Alex Harris, the flying winger who was once a flying winger in the colours of Edinburgh Academy’s First XV. Winning tries in Scottish Schools Cups at Murrayfield are a long way from his thoughts now.
“I made that clear at the start of negotiations, which started when Pat Fenlon was still here, that I was happy here and wanted to continue my development here,” said Harris after news of his extension was made known. “I know I’ve made the right decision in doing that.
“I’ve not thought too far ahead about where this deal will take me, I’m just looking to get back in the team after a few injuries. That’s been my only priority – taking everything as it comes. Playing at the weekend was great, the manager showed faith in me by putting me on early and I want to show my worth to the team by helping them up the league.”
Butcher was in a better mood yesterday than he was at half-time during Harris’s first start since recovering from injury, when St Mirren led his side 3-0.
“I wanted Alex to be my first signing and I am happy that he is,” said the manager. “It was important to keep the players we have here and a three-year deal is great for Alex.
“Whether he lasts the three years here is up to him but I am not going to kick him out but other clubs may come in for him and that means he and the team are doing their jobs well and he is progressing.
“He can now concentrate on his football now that his contract is sorted and sometimes talks when they have gone on for so long can affect people but thankfully it is all done and dusted.
“He has blistering pace and a great end product and he can score goals and create goals and ghost past players for fun with his turbo-charged engine that he possesses and is something that myself and Maurice Malpas have never really had in a player.”