NEARLY nine months have passed since winger Jack Harrison departed Manchester City for a season-long loan at Leeds United.
Thanks to a specifically designated support group for loan players, City’s input and influence has never been far away.
Instructions on two fronts, from Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola, leaving Harrison thrilled and grateful for the circumstances of his football education at LS11 which might just end with celebrations on both fronts in May.
Former Liverpool and Manchester United youngster Harrison arrived on loan at Leeds on July 31 with a glowing and exciting reputation yet with just four brief outings in English football as a second-half substitute for Middlesbrough at the back end of last season.
The Citizens had raided New York City to land the Stoke-born winger’s services in January 2018 after two impressive years in the MLS that had led to outings with England’s under-21s.
No denying the talent and promise, but Harrison arrived at Leeds with plenty to learn in the English game as the midfielder settled into life under one of City manager Guardiola’s closest allies in Bielsa.
Guardiola once described Bielsa as the “best manager in the world” – with strong similarities between United and City’s free-flowing, high press and attractive play.
There might even be similarities in how City and United’s seasons end with Guardiola’s men battling it out with Liverpool in an epic Premier League title tussle as Harrison and co seek their own glory via automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Harrison is determined to see the job through – and confident that his Whites can do so – as part of a hugely beneficial season-long loan with stellar guidance on two fronts.
"Working with Marcelo has improved my game a lot," said Harrison.
"Throughout the season there has been ups and downs and it's great for a young player to experience those things, especially in this league when competition is so high.
"There's a lot of demands from the fans and from the team mates so it's been a great experience this season and I think I have definitely learnt a lot.
“There is a lot of support from City too. There is a special support group that works only with loan players so I have been very grateful to have not only the support from Leeds and all the staff here but some of the staff at Man City as well.
"The feedback has been good. We are always looking on ways that I can improve and, as a young player, that’s all I can ask for really, just to keep evaluating and keep analysing my game and looking for ways to improve it.
“If you watch the way we play at Leeds it is very similar (to City).
"The training is different but in both environments I have learnt a lot and I have been grateful for those opportunities.”
On the pitch, Harrison has now been handed 36 opportunities by Bielsa with the wide man starting United’s last 21 games.
The 22-year-old enjoyed his finest moment yet in a Whites shirt on Saturday when latching on to a precise cross from Pablo Hernandez to net the only goal of the game against Sheffield Wednesday for what was the winger's fourth strike for Leeds.
The fact that Harrison found himself with ample space to finish off Hernandez’s pinpoint delivery was testament to the work of Bielsa.
“The ball was out wide to Pablo and he has got great vision,” said Harrison.
"I tried to just make a little run to the front and he found me and I did my best to direct it towards goal and luckily it went in.”
Reflecting on the areas that Bielsa has improved him as a player, Harrison said: “I think a lot of the movements that not only myself but each individual does on the team.
“You see a lot of movements when someone has the ball and, for me, that’s probably been the biggest thing – how to free myself to find myself in good positions going towards goal and just different movements off the ball to receive it and free myself some space as well.”
Harrison’s strike brought elation to the vast majority of the 36,461 inside Elland Road as part of another perfect weekend for the winger whose parent club City stayed in pole position in the Premier League title race with the following day’s 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
Leeds will be joining City in next season’s Premier League if they take 10 points from their last four games and Harrison is desperate to finally reward United’s fans with a return to the top flight after a 15-year wait.
“It’s important to have the fans behind you in these games when the pressure is high and everything else is going on around the league,” said Harrison.
“It’s important for us just to stay focused on what we can do but, with the help of the fans at home here, it is incredible and it really gets us going as a team.”
With Harrison, the feeling is mutual, Leeds taking to the City loanee who has made the Whites left-wing slot his own.
So, will there be another season of development for the winger at Elland Road?
Harrison is contracted at City until the summer of 2021 but this summer will decide his future next term.
Asked if he would like to be at Leeds next season, Harrison smiled: “This is a great club with a lot of history and it’s brilliant to be a part of it.
"But, as of right now, I just have to focus on doing what I can to help the team and to make sure we get promoted. Then we will see what happens this summer.”