As Luke Ayling channels Marco van Basten, Leeds United winger Jack Harrison deserves recognition and reward - Daniel Chapman

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.

Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 6:00 am

Who remembers who crossed the football on June 25, 1988, the specific football that Netherlands striker Marco van Basten volleyed back across the Soviet Union’s goal and, almost impossibly, into it?

That goal ensured van Basten’s name echoed around playgrounds and pitches for years afterward. It helped that it was a great name to shout as you scuffed your own shot goalwards, bouncing a tennis ball in off a bike: ‘Van BAST-un!’

We can forget the past now, though, because van Basten has been swept away. From now on you’ll know when someone has crashed in a back post volley by the yells of ‘Luke Ayling!’ that follow.

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And you can picture the celebration, because Ayling didn’t end his contribution to the culture there, adding a loose-haired knee slide into air guitar you can’t help wanting to imitate, worrying about the astroturf burns later. It was the complete event; you can even play Marcelo Bielsa’s part, looking the other way and ignoring the whole thing.

But who crossed it for van Basten? And, more importantly, who crossed for Luke Ayling?

We should answer the second one now, before anyone forgets the name of Jackie Harrison.

Okay, Huddersfield’s defenders backed off, giving Harrison time and space they shouldn’t. But did he ever use it.

Jack Harrison curling the ball onto the woodwork against Huddersfield Town (Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

And, given how often Harrison’s final ball is, justly, bemoaned, this one should be, justly, beloved: first for the vision, to see the space at the back post, and the distant figure of Ayling, the two players understanding what could happen next, the way it had already happened in training. Then, for the execution. Behind every spectacular finish there’s a spectacular assist, to make the final touch look easy.

How jealous Jackie must feel of Bill, of how easy life is for the right-back. Harrison has worked and worked for a goal in the last two games, the frame of it denying him, while a deflection and a beauty have pushed Ayling up among the top scorers.

And imagine the careful work Harrison must put into sculpting his quiff to keep it looking so strong through games, while all Ayling has to do is wash and go and shake it out to have the crowds begging for one touch of his leonine locks.

But the job of a winger has always been to make the other players look good. That’s why they add the skills on the touchline where the crowds can see, to feel a touch of the limelight before leaving the headlines to someone else.

Usually the striker benefits, not the right-back, but this is Bielsa’s world. To assist is its own reward, and Harrison can be proud to lead the team with seven of them.

Few players in this division deserve their rewards as much as Harrison, and most of those who do, play with him at Leeds. Harrison is a special case, though, in that his effort has been obvious.

The combination of an underwhelming season and the bitter play-offs sent Harrison into a Bielsa-like zone of study, where few footballers choose to tread in summer. Even Mateusz Klich took some time off. Harrison, seeing the path to betterment under Bielsa, kept on walking alone.

This time last season he was regularly hauled off so Jack Clarke could have a try, but only one of them has upgraded their game until merely being known as Jack is no longer enough. Like a comic book hero wizard of the wing, Harrison has risen to his Jackieness.

Bielsa is given credit for the improvement of players like Klich, Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper, but they’ve had to meet him halfway.

Samu Saiz was given the same chance, and when you see him on Instagram afternoons, his toes twinkling on a sun lounger by the pool, you understand the personal investment these players have made. What is a footballer’s leisure time worth?

That’s why last season felt particularly cruel. The players ended up with nothing, the same as any other player got without trying. The only positive is that success this time will be even sweeter. The players are on the verge of an experience few of their peers, even in previous Bielsa teams, have enjoyed. To be able to celebrate while feeling you’ve still got a marathon in your legs must be wonderful.

For Harrison, a goal would be wonderful. His closest efforts against Hull and Huddersfield were marvellous expressions of determination, dribbling with Maradona’s thunderous intent into defences packed as dense as raindrops in a cloud. All Jackie Haradona got from this was anguish and an assist, while Ayling got the goals. The life of a winger.

It was Arnold Muhren who crossed to van Basten, by the way. A decent player, but no Jackie Harrison.