It proved to be a long but ultimately fruitful weekend for Everton’s recruitment team.
A day of drama, replete with reports of a prospective late hijacking from Aston Villa, ended in the early hours of Monday morning with Jack Harrison an Everton player.
There had been some concerns over late interest from Villa, but shortly after midnight confirmation came that they had their man on a season-long loan deal.
Those close to the Midlands club claimed they had pulled their interest due to concerns over his hip injury, which has been expected to keep him on the sidelines until after the September international break. The surprise there was that a return to action next month has long been viewed as a realistic aim. If all goes well, he will soon be back on the grass to begin the next part of his rehab.
Everton’s pursuit of another Leeds player, Wilfried Gnonto, had provided another interesting sub-context to talks. The Italian’s situation has been disruptive, with the Elland Road club issuing a statement on Friday confirming the Italian had asked to leave this window but would not be allowed to do so.
But here a deal was more easily struck, thanks in large part to a clause in Harrison’s contract allowing him to depart for free on loan in the event of their relegation. He spent much of Sunday with Everton’s recruitment team, his commitment described then as unwavering despite suggestions elsewhere of a change of heart.
Official confirmation of the move came on Monday morning via a short statement, hastily released without the usual quotes and photos in an attempt to dispel some of the weekend’s more egregious rumours. By that stage already an Everton player, Harrison undertook his media duties later the same day, neatly bringing to a close a chaotic 24 hours full of claims and counter-claims.
From Everton’s side, there is satisfaction in snaring a top target on a free loan for the season. This has been a three-month-long pursuit, stepped up as Harrison moved closer to full fitness and with others waiting to pounce.
Aware of his contractual situation, the 26-year-old had been one of the first names on their radar this summer along with Rodrigo and Arnaut Danjuma. Harrison’s former Leeds team-mate may have eluded them, plumping for the big bucks of the Qatar league instead, but their pursuits of the other two have paid off.
Everton knew they needed new wide players, even before Dwight McNeil sustained the injury in pre-season that ruled him out of the opener against Fulham. Saturday’s defeat showed they still need more striking options too but McNeil’s absence, coupled with Danjuma’s lack of fitness, left them with just one fit senior option on the flanks.
The search for a new centre forward continues, but there was a sense they had to move quickly to avoid missing out on Harrison given the significant interest from elsewhere.
Harrison’s journey to the Premier League was unconventional. From Manchester United’s academy to the prestigious Berkshire School in Massachusetts, Wake Forest University and then MLS.
The story goes that Harrison’s mother, Debbie, one day looked at different groups of youth players in the training area at United. She thought: “They’re only looking for one in this group, one to come through, and they’ll be happy.” Not wanting Harrison to be left as one of those who missed out, she decided to go down a different route with her son’s education.
It paid off handsomely. Harrison moved from New York City to their sister club, Manchester City, in January 2018. He had a brief loan spell at Middlesbrough before joining Leeds on loan in Marcelo Bielsa’s first summer in charge. He then played a pivotal part in Leeds’ promotion back to the Premier League. Harrison spent three seasons on loan at Leeds before joining permanently in 2021. The Argentine liked width and Harrison was a typical, paints-on-your-boots kind of winger, hugging the touchline and supplying regular deliveries into the box.
Harrison averaged 4.2 open-play crosses in his time in the Championship and 3.9 in the Premier League. He’s also a prolific carrier, averaging 3.5 dribbles per game in England’s top flight. Although predominantly left-footed, he has also spent a considerable amount of time on the right flank and is comfortable finishing off both feet.
As the below graphic shows, the Stoke-born wide man also puts in a shift defensively.
Part of the appeal for Everton is that these are skills admired by manager Sean Dyche, who wants his wide midfielders to be fit, full of running and productive at both ends.
As someone who trained at high intensity under Bielsa, Harrison is used to covering big distances. In his second summer at Leeds, he went to the U.S. to undertake a big fitness programme. It helped him to bulk up and get more ready physically for the Championship, but he’s always been naturally strong.
A popular view from those in the crowd at Leeds was that Harrison blew hot and cold. He has good spells and more barren spells but remained a regular source of goals in his time at Elland Road.
📊 Had a look at Jack Harrison’s numbers since his Premier League debut for Leeds up to the final day of last season and then compared his data with Everton players during that same period.
Certainly an improvement in attacking areas. pic.twitter.com/Wcav9YmRZd
— Aaron Barton (@AaronBartonUK) August 14, 2023
Last season was a familiar story: five goals and seven assists in a Leeds side that got relegated to the Championship.
When Everton played Leeds that August, then-manager Frank Lampard described his former New York team-mate as “one of the best in the league”.
A year on, he is now an Everton player via a series of curious twists and turns.
Harrison was at Leicester’s training ground in January ready to complete a medical on deadline day. The switch had been recommended by Andrea Radrizzani, who wanted to do a deal as Harrison went into the final 18 months of his contract. Both the player and the then-minority ownership at Leeds (49ers Enterprises) wanted him to stay, though, and he remained a Leeds player until the end of the season.
Harrison then signed a new long-term contract but, crucially, the deal included both a wage reduction and loan release clause in the event of relegation — something Everton have used to their advantage.
So here he is at Goodison Park, ready for the next chapter and still a Premier League player. Everton have already signalled their intention, should the move go well, to make the temporary move permanent.
But first for a return to full fitness and the task immediately ahead: helping to improve a goal-shy Everton attack and avoiding the drama, both personal and collective, of the year just gone.
(Top photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)