After the bizarre situation of three consecutive season-long loan spells, Jack Harrison is finally going through a Leeds United pre-season as a permanent fixture at Thorp Arch.
It is easy to see why this has become such an effective marriage of convenience for player, club and head coach.
Harrison has seen year-on-year improvement under Marcelo Bielsa and after statistically matching some of the Premier League’s finest midfielders last term, there is an excited feeling around the 24-year-old’s potential.
Harrison has become Bielsa’s dream player at Elland Road. His durability is almost unmatched by any other player the Argentine has worked with in West Yorkshire. Harrison’s availability is astounding.
The winger has not missed a Leeds squad because of injury since October 20, 2018 when Blackburn Rovers won 2-1 at Ewood Park.
That’s 986 days or two years, eight months and 12 days up to now. When some of us pull a calf muscle getting out of bed in the morning, that’s staggering consistency from Harrison. It’s not down to luck either. He looks after himself. He is a supremely conditioned athlete, tuned for high performance.
What use is a talented footballer to Bielsa or Leeds United if he is not available for selection on the pitch, where it matters? What use is Bielsa’s genius in developing a footballer if they are never able to take the field and carry out his instructions?
Bielsa can depend on Harrison and has done.
Since December 23, 2018 (Villa Park pandemonium), Harrison has missed five starting line-ups in the league.
That’s five in 110 league matches played. They were Derby County away, the day after they clinched the Championship title, the two City games last term, the Aston Villa home game in February and the West Ham United trip one game later.
Harrison was ineligible for the City matches and the Derby game saw a raft of changes under a cloud of celebration. You could argue Villa and West Ham are the only matches since December 2018 Bielsa has looked at Harrison and not fancied him.
Even Mateusz Klich can’t compete with those selection stats any longer, Harrison’s out there on his own as a player synonymous with Bielsa’s tenure.
The former Middlesbrough loanee has often described the distance Bielsa has from the players on an individual basis, but evidently, the Argentine has a soft spot for what Harrison does on a football pitch.
After eight goals and eight assists in his first season in the Premier League, it is plain to see the potential Leeds have on their hands.
Putting appearances to one side, Harrison was directly involved in more goals than Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Timo Werner, Wilfried Zaha and Gareth Bale among many, many others last season.
On the occasions Bielsa has spoken about Harrison in the past, he has mentioned consistency and that being the key to his better performances.
Back in December 2019, when Bielsa was asked for the key to Harrison’s consistency in a good run of form, he said: “The answer is in the question. He crosses better and he finishes better.
“In the last season, he used to cross worse and he used to finish worse than in this season. He has progressed a lot and it’s down to him, his progress.
“He is a very professional player, he works a lot. He is always looking at every detail and he is improving clearly.”
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More recently, last season, around those two matches he missed out on starts in, Bielsa was asked how he would go about getting Harrison back on track.
“Harrison is a very strong player mentally, he’s a very dedicated professional and on occasions, as with all the players, I maintain a dialogue with him when I see fit,” he said.
That dedication, that professionalism, that will to improve in all areas comes up again and again when it comes to Harrison. He is driven.
There is talk of a new winger on Victor Orta’s shopping list this summer, but with Harrison back at Elland Road as expected, there’s more than enough evidence he may not give any new faces a look in.