Jack Harper: Malaga's Scottish forward who walked out on Real Madrid as a teenager'

Jack Harper
Jack Harper is a Scotland Under-19 international forward

Not many teenagers would walk out on Real Madrid.

But Jack Harper is not your typical player.

He's a rare case of a Spanish-born Scot, who learned the game in southern Spain and dreams of playing in a World Cup for Scotland.

"When I am here in Spain I feel Spanish, when I go home and see my family I feel Scottish," he says, in a broad Scottish accent.

Harper is bilingual. He might sound like a Scot when talking in English but he has a Malaga accent when speaking Spanish.

The 22-year-old's career path also makes interesting reading.

From his local boys' team to Real Madrid's famous youth set-up, then to Brighton, before returning "home" to Malaga.

Harper discussed his fledgling career with Guillem Balague in an in-depth interview for BBC Radio 5 live's Football Daily podcast.

You can listen to the Euro Leagues Football Show from 20:00 GMT on Thursday, 17 February on BBC Radio 5 live - or listen to the full podcast here.

The teenage Scot at Real Madrid

Jack Harper
Harper's first coach at Real Madrid was Santiago Sanchez, who is now first-team manager Santiago Solari's assistant

Harper was born in Malaga on the Costa del Sol to Scottish parents, who moved with Harper's two older siblings shortly before he was born.

He grew up in Fuengirola, a town a short drive along the coast from Malaga, where he first played for a junior team.

Scouts from La Liga clubs would watch these games but it was while playing for Almeria in a prestigious youth tournament in Brunete on the outskirts of Madrid - Spanish players like Andreas Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique all played in the Brunete tournament in earlier years - that Harper first caught the attention for Real Madrid.

"Almeria didn't have a youth system so they called lots of players from [the towns of] Malaga and Almeria and I got picked," Harper said.

"We beat Real Madrid 2-0 and from there they would have known who I was."

At 13, Harper joined Real Madrid's academy. He made the six-hour journey from Malaga to live full-time at the club's training ground and be educated at a private school, paid for by Real.

"I lived basically in the digs," Harper said.

"Lots of players have come through there - Juan Mata, Alvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado - and you are living with 50 other kids.

Borja Mayoral
Harper's strike partner in the Real Madrid youth teams was Borja Mayoral, who is currently on loan at Levante but has played 31 times for the Real first team

"Going to a private school is something I will always remember. Here in Malaga I would never have done that.

"Being in school with 50 different kids every day - you learn to grow up as a person."

Harper moved through the age groups at Real Madrid, progressing as far as the club's C team - the second reserve side.

"The dressing rooms [of the age-group teams] get closer and closer to the first team," Harper said.

"In my last year we were really close.

"I remember in the gym or in the hydrotherapy baths you would see them and it was a bit of a shock at the start, seeing people you have only seen on television.

"But then you realise they are just footballers like you and are a motivation to be playing against them or with them one day."

'I live in my parents' basement'

Aged 18, Harper had two years left on his contract in Madrid but decided to leave the Spanish giants.

"They wanted to loan me out but apart from me there were another 30 or 40 players being loaned out so I thought it was a good time to leave," he said.

From Real he joined English club Brighton, then in the Championship, for an undisclosed fee but did not make a first-team appearance in 18 months on the south coast.

"It was a big change, a shock," Harper said.

"I finished my contract at Madrid and finished with quite a bad knee injury. It should only have been a one or two-month injury but it developed into something worse. I was out for six months.

"Signing for a new team and not being able to do what you are there to do is quite hard."

Jack Harper
Harper joined Brighton on a two-year deal in July 2015

Feeling the need to play regular football, Harper, at this stage aged 20, decided to move back "home" to Malaga.

He joined the Spanish club, initially with their second team, and helped them gain promotion from the third tier. The forward scored 13 goals in 23 games.

"I felt going home and being where I am comfortable was the best option at the time - taking one step back to go two forward and I think that is what happened," Harper said.

"In Spain, with reserve teams you are competing with men and I think that was what I needed at the time."

And the move was not only for football reasons.

"I went straight back to mum and dad's," Harper said. "I felt they owed me a few years of being taken care of.

"I left when I was 13, I have only been home now for two years so I am basically 15.

"We live in a house and I live in the basement. It sounds bad but it is really nice. It is like my own little flat."

'I want to play for Scotland at a World Cup'

Jack Harper
Harper first played for the Scotland youth teams when he was 15

This season Harper has been a key part of the first team at Malaga, who are currently third in the second tier after relegation from La Liga last campaign.

"This year has been a big step up because I am playing for my home city," he said.

"I know the people who support the club so you feel more pressure. People's happiness is on the line."

The forward is eligible to play internationally for both Spain and Scotland but has been called-up by Scotland at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level.

And Harper is in little doubt about who he would choose to represent at full international level, saying one of his career goals is to play for Scotland at a World Cup.

"It has always been a dream since I was a little boy to make my family proud and play for Scotland and play at Hampden," he said.

"Hopefully that time will come soon.

"I am playing at a high enough level that if I keep doing what I am doing then I think I will get my chance for the Scotland first team."

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