Jack Harrison: England U21 midfielder on life in New York and leaving Man Utd

Among the current England Under-21 squad is a man who counts Andrea Pirlo and David Villa among his team-mates and is coached by Patrick Vieira at New York City FC.

Jack Harrison was born in Stoke-on-Trent but educated in the United States, leaving Manchester United and England at 14 for a football scholarship at a boarding school in Massachusetts.

This week, he has been given his debut call-up to Aidy Boothroyd’s squad for the European Championship qualifiers against Scotland in Middlesbrough on Friday and in Andorra on Tuesday.

Here he tells BBC Sport how he found out about his inclusion, how he came to be in the US, and his experiences there.

‘I rang my mum, but she wasn’t answering…’

Harrison trained for the first time with his international team-mates on Wednesday. He last played for New York City on Sunday, a 1-1 draw at Chicago Fire. Just before the game, Vieira told him he had been called up, but he ran into a problem when he tried to share the news.

The first person I called was my mum, who was in New York, but she wasn’t answering. She knew I had a game so she was probably thinking ‘why is he calling me right now?’

I finally got on the phone about 15 minutes before I went out to warm up and said: “Mum, I have made the U21s – but I have got to go and warm up so I am off’. It was quick but exciting and we were both very happy.

‘Only one other kid had left Man Utd’

It was Harrison’s mum, Debbie, who floated the idea of moving to America, with the intention being to boost his footballing prospects as well as his education.

When my mum first introduced the idea of leaving the UK to take up a football scholarship in the States, I was really apprehensive. For a lot of the young kids in academies, they just think about making it to the first team, and in a lot of cases they don’t make it.

I’m very lucky my mum helped me to have an open mind about the idea because it was a great opportunity and about much more than the football side. There was an education there as well.

There were a lot of people who doubted the decision to leave Manchester United but I am happy that I stuck with it.

I am very thankful for my time at the club – a lot of the foundation of skills I have is mainly through them. I think they were pretty disappointed that I was leaving – only one other kid had left the academy before and that was to go on a tennis scholarship – but we left on a good note. It wasn’t hostile.

‘Vieira and Lampard have been amazing’

Last year Harrison was the number one pick in the MLS draft, eventually signing his first professional contract with New York City. Since making his debut, Harrison has played 55 times for the first team, scoring 14 goals and providing 10 assists.

When I finally got drafted by New York City FC, I realised then I had no regrets. I would definitely recommend it to any younger player who is not getting as much game time as they would like.

It has been a great opportunity to go out there and get that playing experience under your belt. I am so grateful to be in that position. With the support of New York behind me, it is really special.

Patrick [Vieira, New York City’s manager] has been amazing. He has been so supportive since drafting me. I had an injury at the time. He helped me through that a lot. Frank [Lampard, former England, Chelsea and New York midfielder] has been incredible too.

Even this past year, while he has been in England and not playing, he has reached out to me and congratulated me on a goal. Just little things like that. It might not be much to him but they mean the world to me.

City Football Group [who in addition to New York City also own Manchester City among other clubs] is an amazing organisation to be a part of. They have been so supportive of everything I have done so far. As a player, everyone dreams of playing in the top leagues in Europe. It would be a great opportunity if that was to come up.

For now, I am just focused on being at New York, finishing off the season and hopefully winning something. I will see what happens after that.

Harrison was speaking to BBC Sport’s Simon Stone