Is Josh Harrop the one that got away for Manchester United?
Former scout Lee Waddlington believes so. He told the MEN this weekend that if Harrop had come through the ranks when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was manager, he would be a regular at the club.
Harrop made his debut under Jose Mourinho on the final day of the Premier League in 2016/17, on the same day as Scott McTominay, and even scored in a 2-0 win.
But while McTominay has gone onto make 116 appearances for the club, Harrop never played another match for United.
Harrop chose to reject a contract extension and sign with Preston North End, chasing the prospect of regular first team football.
Waddlington told the MEN that if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been in charge, it never would have come to that.
He said: “His technical ability and his ability to get out of tight spots and really do the unusual with a high-level of creativity, underpinned by a real great work ethic.
“For me… just my opinion on this… If Mourinho would have been replaced earlier by Ole I think Josh would still be there and would have a big number of Premier League games under his belt but that’s the luck of the draw.”
Is it fair comment?
Mourinho picked a nearly all-change team to face Crystal Palace on the final day of the 16/17 season with United going ‘all-in’ on the Europa League final against Ajax just days later.
Harrop had not had any chances for United’s first team until that point, and so he probably appreciated the circumstances in which he was given the opportunity, rather than having been hand picked to feature along other first team players.
His mind was likely made up to leave the club prior to his opportunity, having not earned a chance beforehand despite scoring 12 goals for the under-23s.
Solskjaer has certainly added more of a family feel back to United than how it was under Mourinho. There is a greater focus on the academy, and integrating the young players into the squads when they earn the chance.
But it is not all black and white. Youngster Angel Gomes also chose to quit on Solskjaer’s United last summer and signed with Lille, rather than stay and sign a new contract.
What is Harrop up to now?
Harrop got his wish. He signed with Preston where he has gone onto play 94 games, in which he has scored 13 goals.
He has had an up and down time at Preston during this spell, battling a cruciate knee injury in 2019, and trying to find his best position in attack amid a lack of consistency.
Now 25, Harrop has dropped down a division on loan to join Ipswich Town last month, another case of trying to take one step back to take two forwards.
An inability to kick on beyond Preston may suggest Harrop would not have made it at United, but you never know what could have happened under a different coaching staff, whether those key years of development could have been harnessed differently.
His ACL injury in 2018 was obviously a tough blow to bounce back from at a key stage in his career. His goal for United’s first team in 2017 will remain a special memory for him. As the scout who first spotted him notes, his career will remain a ‘what if?’, over what could have happened if he broke through in a different era of management.
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