Jack Harper: "I wouldn't say I was Spanish; I'm a Scottish malagueño"

Harper, at the Ciudad de Málaga complex last week.
Harper, at the Ciudad de Málaga complex last week. / Migue Fernández
  • The Malaga forward speaks of his roots and incredible rise in his first ever interview in the Spanish press

Brit pop, not reggaeton; and not a tattoo in sight. Jack Harper (Malaga, 1996) is not your typical footballer. This "Scottish malagueño" has not had a typical career either. After trading the world-famous Real Madrid academy for Brighton and Hove Albion, the centre forward is now finding his feet in the professional game after returning to the city of his birth.

In what was his first interview with the Spanish press (he previously spoke to the BBC), the 22-year-old spoke of his roots, inspirations and how helping Malaga get back into the big time is his main focus.

So, this is the first time you've spoken to the Spanish press...

Yes, the gaffer wanted me to be a hundred per cent focused on the games but now I'm starting to give a couple of interviews.

Your brother Ryan used to play for Polideportivo Ejido, Estepona, Guadalajara, Betis B, Fuenlabrada and Algeciras. In the end he played nine games in Segunda, scoring one goal. You've surpassed him now...

Yes, I think I have the record now for goals scored by Scots in La Liga 1|2|3 [currently on four]...

Maybe including Primera too.

I bet there was another Scottish player some time ago... Several British ones, for sure.

But despite your Scottish heritage, you were born on the Costa del Sol.

Yes, in Malaga [in the Hospital Gálvez]. It's strange; I wouldn't say I was Spanish but I do feel 'malagueño'.

Tell me a bit about how your family ended up here. Because your brother Ryan was born in Scotland, wasn't he?

Yes, I have two brothers and a sister. Basically, my parents, both from Glasgow, came here on holiday more than once and fell in love with the place. They wanted a better life for their children and a year later I was born. Then came my little brother.

They were looking for a better life but they stayed in the same job?

No. My parents retired when they came here and it's no small task bringing up four children.

Ryan is your agent now. Does he give you good advice?

Yes. My brother is very important to me. He's my agent but above all he's a great friend. We have many friends in common and I feel very close to him.

How are contract negotiations going?

I hope everything goes well. I only want to renew. My number one objective is for Malaga to go up and I can continuing progressing with this club. We have the same ambitions.

What mark did your time at Real Madrid leave on you?

I went to the capital when I was 13. I stopped being a child and went to live on my own; thanks to that I've become the person I am now. Real Madrid developed me at what is one of the best academies in the world. They paid for me to go to a private school [SEK] and I lived with Febas [now at Albacete] who I played against a couple of months ago and we swapped shirts, and next door was Jesé [now at PSG] and José Rodríguez [Mainz].

Which coaches have you learned from most during your career?

I've been lucky to have good coaches, like Luis Miguel Ramis, who I had at Juvenil A [Real Madrid youth side]. He's very similar to Muñiz [Malaga coach Juan Ramón]: strict, hardworking and rewarding to those who work hardest on the pitch. I also worked with Fernando Morientes, a goalscorer who I learned a lot about movement and sensing where the ball would drop in the area. When I was really young there was Javier Toledano, who more than just coached - he instilled the desire to live football. I have a lot of affection for him and I invited him to the game this weekend [the 2-1 win over Lugo on 19 January]. I was very fortunate to score with him in the crowd, it was very nice.

How did your departure from Real Madrid come about? Did you know it was coming?

In my year with Juvenil A they were already considering getting rid of Real Madrid C, which was my next logical step with two years still on my contract. I don't know if it was [club president Florentino] Pérez or the club that got rid of it but it put not just mine, but a lot of other players' futures in doubt. I opted to leave. I went to Brighton [under 23s] where I stayed for a year and a half, but I picked up an injury and it was a lot worse than we thought. I was out for six months and I never really got going. That's when I came to Malaga. It was what I needed.

After playing for Scotland at youth level, do you hope one day to play for their senior team?

Yes, I think they'll be looking at me. The majority of players are in the Championship [the English second tier], which is very similar to Segunda. I hope to be able to help my country. I think it's reachable. Sooner or later my chance will come.

Is that how you approached the summer? Did you think you had a chance with the first team?

I didn't think it would happen. It's a dream. In fact I didn't even know for certain if I was going to be staying at the club.

Last year you didn't always play and at times you were on the wing...

Yeah, under [Atlético Malagueño coach Manel] Ruano, but when Dely Valdés arrived, he appreciated my qualities as a forward.

You told the club website after the Lugo game that the boss had mentioned the possibility of you playing wide. What do you think of that?

He spoke to me and asked me if I felt I was capable. I told him that I had done it before on a couple of occasions and that if he needed me to, I'd give it everything.

When friends, family or people on the street ask you if Malaga are going up, what do you tell them?

Well I tell them what I really think. As someone who's from Malaga, I identify with them and to motivate them and so that they have ambition and support us, I tell them yes.

And is that what you really think?

I think so. We are all working towards it. In every game we want to win and be as high as possible.

People are saying that Malaga aren't playing well, that each game is a struggle and that you create few chances to score. But you're second and one point off top...

They don't give away points in this league. Getting all three is vital so winning is always really difficult and if you manage it, you've done very well. It doesn't matter who your opponent is, they're all tricky and you have to be on your toes for the whole game. The fans have the right to demand more from the team but we are giving everything.

What are your targets as a professional?

What really excites me is making progress. I feel that I am always improving but I don't like to look too far into the future.

Where do you think you've got room for improvement?

I think I'm understanding the play better. I'm listening to the advice of the coach and he has shown me how to press better and how to stay fresh during the latter stages of games. I've had a big change going from Tercera to Segunda; I've adapted well but I think I can give a lot more.