How much more can Leeds ask of Jackie Harrison?

Written by: Moxcowhite • Daniel Chapman
Photograph by: Lee Brown
Jackie Harrison photographed at Elland Road, smiling in the warm up before playing West Ham, looking like a nice guy with a great quiff, cos he is

Despite all the hype around transfer deadline day, and the frantic attention given to last minute £106,800,000 transfers and laughing at Everton, if ‘winning the window’ means anything it’s letting 31st January go by you in a swim, occasionally picking up the phone to text an agent back: ‘Nah’.

Leeds United, with Max Wöber, Georginio Rutter and Weston McKennie all signed, filmed and posted on TikTok, had little to worry them beyond a few enquiries for Charlie Cresswell, and Brenden Rodgers glaring in through the window at Jackie Harrison. While Sean Dyche was still growling regrets into Ian Woan’s shoulder in their new AirBnB by the Mersey, the lights were out at Elland Road, everyone gone home with a good transfer window behind them, and an anxious wait to play Nottingham Forest ahead.

Everyone, that is, except our friend Jackie Harrison.

We only found out the next evening, from The Athletic, that what we thought was peace was not at all. Leicester City’s bid for Harrison, hopefully having gone much higher than the initially reported £20m, had not been refused. A move to the Midlands had not been ruled out. And for a while, as darkness fell, it was closer to being ruled in:

On Tuesday evening, Harrison actually made the trip to Leicester’s training ground, pre-empting the possibility that he could be sold at the last minute. City got a medical going. Then, with the clock counting down, Leeds reached the decision to keep him and the prospect of him leaving finally died a death.

The one saving grace of the reverse Dan Jamesness Leeds United have pulled here is that it happened without the glare of publicity around that failed transfer from Swansea to Yorkshire. But just because there’s no way of spinning this into a positive for a club-funded documentary doesn’t mean it isn’t harsh on Harradona. The M1 from Leeds to Leicester is a rough trip at the best of times, even if you’re in some sort of luxury SUV, and going there to do nothing at best and have a physical exam at worst, and then just come back again, getting home (wherever that is now) long after midnight, sounds miserable to me. Then after a few hours of sleep it’s back in for training the next day, meeting the questioning glances of thirty teammates all wondering what the hell. All that, and you didn’t even want to go:

Harrison, for his part, was not agitating for a transfer or actively stating a desire to depart. By Tuesday, he was simply philosophical in realising that if Leeds wanted to cash in on him, it made sense to take up an offer elsewhere.

Who did want him to go to Leicester? Leicester, that’s for sure, but from the Leeds end The Athletic’s article only speaks of wishes he would be staying:

[Jesse] Marsch said twice last week that he wanted Harrison to stay put … Director of football Victor Orta recruited Harrison from City in the first place and advised the club to keep him … City felt from Tuesday morning onwards that the deadline was most likely to pass with Harrison remaining at Elland Road — the process had become too complicated to unravel itself in time.

The boardroom is missing from this and the answer must lie there, somewhere between Andrea Radrizzani and 49ers Enterprises, looking at a player eighteen months from the end of his contract and occupying a position where Leeds have bought reinforcements, weighing him against a bag of crisp cash. The head coach, the director of football and the player himself all wanted him to stay; but someone in the boardroom was finding Leicester’s offer so hard to resist they were willing to foot the expense claim for Harrison’s petrol south. Unless they’re going to argue about that, too.

The resolution, according to The Athletic, was:

When the time came to put up or shut up, Leeds felt the same [as Marsch] — resolving to reject Leicester’s approach and focus on a contract extension instead.

Harrison would be entitled to be a little tougher over his contract talks now, both in terms of his increased wages — a ‘fucking me around’ bonus is probably due — and who he will be signing it with: the owners who wanted him to go, or not?

Whether Jackie will go hard like that is another matter. Leicester were offering him a substantial pay rise and he wasn’t interested. And this is the part I find most painful. Of all the players to push away to Leicester in the middle of the night, why did it have to be Jackie Harrison? Perhaps because, of all the players, only Jackie would go quietly.

Last season Jesse Marsch was pleading with him to be ‘a son of a bitch on the pitch’, and that manifested itself in one late tackle that so mortified Harrison he’s never hurt anybody since. As a teen he showed great fortitude by leaving the Old Trafford academy and going to seek his fortune in the USA, but a lot of that was thanks to his mum taking him to the airport and pushing him onto the plane. He was placid amid the wrangling of the MLS draft process, picked by Chicago Fire then traded within the hour to New York City, switching his life from one city to another in the space of one afternoon without complaining. Back in England, he calmly accepted life on loan from Manchester City to Leeds United, a year-by-year existence, while investing in himself with summer trips to a sports psychologist. While being consistently underrated, he has quietly gone about his business of goals and assists with a work ethic that makes up for any productive shortcomings. Nobody is more agitated by those shortcomings than him — his anguished cries are often picked up by effects microphones after a mishit corner — and he has always shown willing to improve. What he has rarely shown, though, is delight in his goal celebrations, fuelling my theory that he just doesn’t want to make any trouble for anybody by being the centre of attention.

The downside of that, for Jack, is that he doesn’t get all the praise he’s due. Somehow the player who turns up every week fit and strong, runs his arse off in training and never stops working in the games, becomes a player people think is expendable. But hell, we would miss him if he was gone.

Harrison’s 87th minute winner at Reading sums him up, and is one of my favourite goals of recent years. Harrison helps Stuart Dallas win possession in Leeds’ own corner, after a Reading free-kick, then as the ball sweeps from Dallas to Gjanni Alioski to Helder Costa on the right, Jackie is sprinting along the left, all the way until he heads Costa’s cross in to score and follows the ball into the net himself. He has just started the move at one end of the pitch, and run so far so fast he bursts beyond the boundary line while scoring at the other, and all he wants to do next is congratulate Helder for the cross.

This is a nice person we’re dealing with, and just because he’s a nice person, Leeds United should not be testing that personality with phantom medicals in Leicester on some cash-fuelled whim. Not to get all ‘fine young men’ about it, but Marsch is right to highlight the importance of decent people, and at the very least I hope this decent person got some grovelling apologies on Wednesday morning. It seems highly unlikely to me that Harrison will trash talk the board in the press, kick up a fuss in the newspapers or complain about this week’s events on television. Maybe when it comes up in his next interview he’ll say, with his usual understatement, ‘Yeah, that was a bit weird, I understood the position the club were in but I never really wanted to leave so I was glad it turned out how it did’. Maybe Jackie will throw in a good word for the nice people in Leicester who gave him a cup of tea while Leeds United sorted themselves out. Maybe some people on the Leeds United board will feel a twinge of guilt about taking advantage of this sweet nature.

There might be better, more productive, more exciting attackers than Harrison in the Premier League or available from Europe. But just as there are different players, there are different ways of enjoying football. Sometimes, sure, I’m all about the three points and the result by any means (see you on Sunday for some of that) and I want to see goals, assists, and corners going past the first defender. But sometimes I’m all about a good guy with a cool quiff making me gasp with an exquisite first touch. And I will always be all about the players who, at Angus Kinnear’s request, saved us from “dicking around with the play-offs” in 2019/20. How about Leeds return the favour by not dicking them around, up and down the M1 on a cold Tuesday night for no good reason. And no, whatever the reason was, it was not a good reason. ⬢



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