The Manchester United dream factory is an unforgiving place. For every David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Marcus Rashford, there are countless players forced to look elsewhere for football nirvana.
Some drop down the Leagues. Others drop out completely.
As 19-year-old Jack Harrison tears into MLS defences for New York City FC and prepares for their playoff second leg against Toronto on Sunday, it'd be natural to think the Premier League's grandest club let a gem slip through their fingers. But making it at United is never a guarantee, as Harrison learned from an early age.
"One day at Carrington [United's training ground], I pulled Jack to one side, and we looked at all the pictures on the wall of the youth teams down the years," the midfielder's mother, Debbie, tells Bleacher Report. "I said, 'Do [you] recognize any of these players?' The answer was no. I tried to explain to him that just because you're in the academy, it won't take you anywhere."
And therein lies the rub. Playing for Manchester United from the age of eight—he had previously trained with Liverpool from age six—is an achievement in itself. Yet what are the chances of making it all the way to the big time?
Rashford was a year below him. Jesse Lingard was four years ahead. For the Harrisons, however, the risk of losing everything was too real.
Schoolboy Jack in his Manchester United academy tracksuit. Photo courtesy of Debbie Harrison.
So instead of having her son cling by his fingertips for casting at the theatre of dreams, Debbie plotted a path to help Jack live a football life less ordinary in the United States. Neither had crossed the Atlantic before. No matter.
Then just 14, Harrison flew to Massachusetts, where his mother managed to get her son, with the help of grants, a place at the $50,000-a-year Berkshire School. The coaches at the football-playing boarding school were blown away.
The seeds were sown, as the path to MLS—and adulthood—had begun. It wasn't just a huge sporting call. This was a massive life decision.
"Jack has always been very independent," Debbie says. "Moving to Berkshire was a massive move, but he rang on the first night and said, 'Mum, I love it here. The squirrels are massive!' I knew he'd be OK."
Mixing education and sport (he excelled at squash and mountain biking as well as football), the boy from Bolton flourished at his new home.