Jack Harrison preaches caution over Leeds United boardroom temptation - Joe Donnohue’s verdict on FA Cup win

Jack Harrison issued Leeds United’s key decision-makers with a timely reminder of his ability on Saturday afternoon as the Whites defeated Accrington Stanley 3-1 in the FA Cup Fourth Round
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Leeds’ 26-year-old midfielder has been the subject of interest from a number of Premier League clubs during his time at Elland Road, including Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and more recently Leicester City. With the January transfer window winding up to a conclusion early next week, Harrison’s last act before the window shut was to provide a goal and assist as the Whites progressed to the Last 16 of the FA Cup.

Deployed in a deeper, left-sided central midfield role in Jesse Marsch’s 4-3-3 formation, Harrison was able to attack play from deep, supporting left-sided attacker Luis Sinisterra at the Wham Stadium on Saturday afternoon. As has been the case in recent weeks, since his slight positional tweak, he appeared at home in this new groove.

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Harrison’s opener was a nod to his last-minute winner against Brentford last season, firing low and hard from outside the penalty area beyond aptly-named Stanley goalkeeper Toby Savin. His celebration was muted compared to that unforgettable moment in West London last May, but a grin did appear through the Lancashire mist as Marc Roca raised him aloft.

Jack Harrison celebrates after scoring Leeds' opening goal against Accrington (Photo by PETER POWELL/AFP via Getty Images)Jack Harrison celebrates after scoring Leeds' opening goal against Accrington (Photo by PETER POWELL/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Harrison celebrates after scoring Leeds' opening goal against Accrington (Photo by PETER POWELL/AFP via Getty Images)

The goal came against the run of play, in the sense that during the opening 20 minutes there had not been much play, as Accrington – and Leeds, admittedly – appeared disinterested in keeping the ball on the deck.

Nevertheless, Leeds went in a goal to the good on 45 minutes, at which point, news broke that Leicester City had reportedly tabled a £20 million bid for the former Manchester City loanee last week with the Whites’ hierarchy yet to decide whether they would accept. For those wedged into Accrington’s press box and adjoining seats, doubling as a spill-over-car-park-for-journalists, the timing was far from ideal.

Before long, the second half was upon us, which brought with it Patrick Bamford’s sumptuous pass to set up Junior Firpo for his first Leeds goal, and an assist for Harrison, coolly and unselfishly presenting Luis Sinisterra with the opportunity for Leeds’ third. At around the same time, Everton winger Anthony Gordon arrived in Newcastle to undergo a medical and complete a transfer worth £40 million.

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Granted, the 21-year-old is five years Harrison’s junior, but since the beginning of last season, Gordon has scored seven Premier League goals without registering any assists. In that same period, Leeds’ No. 22 has nine league goals and five assists across a similar tally of minutes.

The disparity in fees touted across Twitter can be explained by Harrison’s contract situation. The Leeds man has 18 months to run on his current deal and there is an appetite at Elland Road to explore the possibility of extending the 26-year-old’s stay in West Yorkshire. From a financial perspective, those set for a boardroom exit this summer could be excused if their appetite was somewhat greater for doubling their money on a player who has been ousted from the left flank and accommodated elsewhere of late.

Head coach Marsch has been reluctant to discuss transfers, incoming or outgoing, this month, self-imposing a ban on such discussions until after deals are complete. The American did provide some context to Harrison’s current situation, though, suggesting the player is not ‘itching to leave’ before next Tuesday’s deadline.

Marsch post-match comments applauding Harrison’s character, and the longer-than-usual embrace as he was substituted on 88 minutes, are likely to reinforce in the player’s mind that he is not deemed expendable at Elland Road just yet, even with the emergence of Willy Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville, coupled with the signings of Luis Sinisterra and Georginio Rutter. Whether Marsch’s human touch is convincing enough for Harrison to sign on for his peak years at Elland Road is a different matter altogether.

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Harrison’s agent has flown in from the United States this month, although reading too deeply into the movement of football intermediaries during January is not advisable.

What can be inferred from the weekend’s news cycle is that the Leeds man still has a role to play, perhaps larger than he or anyone else at the Wham Stadium had anticipated before kick-off. While he may frustrate with repeated stutter-step dribbles and subsequent dispossessions, he is one of few Marcelo Bielsa acolytes who has made the transition to Marsch’s football without waning too heavily in importance and certainly not in terms of output.

Leeds’ squad is at a point where the team could feasibly compete on two fronts. It is finally deep enough to create weekly selection headaches, so to jettison a player who has been a regular simply because he is expected to contribute less, may not be as materially prudent, as it is financially.

Leeds are a bottom half Premier League club, who until very recently Jack Harrison started for most weeks. At 26 years old, with an expiring contract, £20 million is probably a representative valuation. Quite understandably, there may be a temptation within the Whites’ boardroom to cash in, especially if the club foresee Weston McKennie joining in the coming days and triggering a reported €35 million purchase option further down the line.

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As Harrison’s adaptation in recent weeks has shown, he has banked enough credit to convince Leeds’ decision-makers that he can adjust to a new role, or compete with the likes of Gnonto. Jesse Marsch went on record at full-time and hopes to keep him, but the final decision will not rest exclusively with the head coach.

Harrison himself said after the Whites’ 3-1 win in Accrington that the group are taking things ‘game-by-game’. It would feel awfully hurried and abrupt if his most recent goal-and-assist display was his final one in Leeds colours. Leeds are into somewhat uncharted territory in the FA Cup, at least for this squad. And in uncomfortable or stressful environments, like Accrington, Brentford and as the scorer of a hat-trick whilst part of a depleted side against West Ham this time last year, Harrison has proven himself a good man to have around.