Jack Harper has one of the most interesting journeys in football over the last 15 years.
There are, after all, not many Scottish players who can say that they signed for Real Madrid when they were just 13 years old, but that’s exactly what Harper did back in 2009.
Born in Malaga to parents from Barrhead, Harper has spent most of his life in Spain, but represented Scotland’s under-15, under-17 and under-19 sides at youth level.
Harper’s journey at Real Madrid
Harper rose through the ranks of his local team UD Fuengirola Los Boliches, before catching the eyes of the world by moving into the academy set-up at none other than the club of the century.
The young forward would never actually make a senior appearance for Los Blancos, but nevertheless spent six valuable years at the Bernabeu learning his trade as a fledgling footballer.
The unique opportunity even saw Harper playing with members of Real’s first-team, recalling fascinating anecdotes of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s regime and Zinedine Zidane’s time as youth coach.
Speaking to the Guardian, Harper reflected on his meeting with Ronaldo by saying: “I took a picture. I was tiny; it’s funny looking at that. I’m a fan – he’s the hardest worker, he was always there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen his car move. If it was easy everyone would do it. He’s obsessed.”
In the end, Harper made it as far as the club’s C team, but decided to call time on his Real spell at the age of 18 despite still having two years left on his contract.
Spain to England and back again
Explaining his decision to the BBC during a 2019 interview, the Scot said: “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.”
His next destination was a return to the British Isles as Harper spent 18 months with Brighton & Hove Albion, but injuries and a lack of first-team opportunities ultimately left him longing for a return to Spain.
At this point 20 years old, Harper decided to come back “home” to Malaga and instantly impressed with the club’s B team, scoring 13 goals in 23 games as they earned promotion to Spain’s third tier.
🇪🇸 Jack Harper for Malaga this season:— bet365 (@bet365) October 12, 2018
– Started every league game
– Scored two goals, both winners
– Helped his team go 5 points clear at the top
– Praised by the Spanish media for his performances
🏴 Jack Harper for Scotland:
– 0 senior caps
– 0 senior call-ups
– 0 U21 caps pic.twitter.com/1jKoTCVmhX
That, in turn, led to a breakthrough season in Harper’s career as he played in Malaga’s first-team for the 2018/19 campaign where the club narrowly missed out on returning to La Liga via the play-offs.
The Scottish forward helped himself to 26 appearances and four goals in the very same blue and white stripes that Isco, Santi Cazorla and Ruud van Nistelrooy had previously worn.
What is Harper doing now?
Nevertheless, that proved to be the end of the road for Harper at Malaga as he completed a move to Getafe in the summer of 2019, sparking a series of loan spells away from the La Liga club.
Harper has cycled through stints at AD Alcorcón, FC Cartagena, Villarreal CF B and most recently Racing Santander for whom he scored two goals from 17 appearances in the Spanish second tier.
Los Verdiblancos even made it back into La Liga in the process, winning the league by 12 points in what could be the finest showcase yet for Harper to finally get his chance in Spain’s big time.
🏴 | Jack Harper— Everything Scotland 🏴 (@AboutScotlandd) October 31, 2021
Getafe striker Jack Harper fired in an 84th minute winner for Racing Santander as his loan side took all three points vs Real Union.
The result takes Racing Santander to joint top of the table as they chase promotion.pic.twitter.com/gHifohf21G
And that’s where our story comes to an end, for now.
All in all, you’ve got to tip your hat to Harper because the business of football can be cruel, unkind and unforgiving, never mind when you’re a 13-year-old thrown into the crazy world of Real Madrid.
Hopefully we’ll be writing a follow-up to this story in a few years’ time with even more exciting updates from the ever-fascinating career of Harper. Good on you, Jack.