Ian Harkes’ move to Dundee United in the winter transfer window of 2019 allowed the American baller to reconcile a number of other aspects from his past and present. At first, he was reunited with the city of his grandfather’s birth. He was then reunited with British football once more, following on from his trailblazing father John Harkes’ success south of the border. Lastly, and more crucially, he was reunited with his footballing-fiancé Sarah in Scotland having played in different leagues and countries for years. A match made in heaven. But more on that later.
With all that now in place, however, it is the future that the midfielder is looking to. Having won promotion to Scotland’s top tier with The Terrors under the unfamiliar circumstances of a national lockdown, Harkes is looking to continue his upward trajectory and follow in the footsteps of his father.
He doesn’t shy away from the accomplishments of Harkes Snr. He uses the pressure applied from his family tree as a carrot; a springboard in allowing himself the best chance of success both domestically and internationally.
He’s certainly made a good start. Here’s what we had to say under the cover of Dundee’s V&A museum from the lashing rain over the weekend.
Let’s start with Dundee United; you guys recently won promotion back to the Scottish Premiership after a four year absence via the SPFL vote. Did you get the chance to celebrate winning the title? Not really! I was able to celebrate with my fiancé, Sarah, in the house. With the boys, we had a Zoom call which everyone jumped on and had a drink to celebrate - but it wasn’t really a full thing, which is annoying!
Have you received your medal for the title win? No we haven’t had that either! I’m not sure what we are going to receive; if we will get a medal or if we will get to lift the trophy at some point. Hopefully we can do it before the next season starts or we will all be thinking about it…. and be relegated before you know it! (Laughs)
When you first signed from D.C United, did Scottish football take you by surprise in any way? It definitely is different, for sure. It hasn’t surprised me too much, but there are certain components of it that are different from the US: the physicality, the tempo - the tempo is quicker; it’s a lot more end-to-end over here, so that took some adjusting to when i first arrived.
What are the main cultural differences between playing for D.C. United and Dundee United? I think, for me, the focus on the Scottish football would be the big one. And the passion the fan’s have. Back home, there are so many sports and football is probably the most up and coming one. So club’s don’t necessarily have the history behind them that applies pressure to the players at certain clubs. Over here, for example, Dundee United and Aberdeen have such rich histories and it really adds a weight of expectation. There are also proper rivalries over here which are steeped in history. It creates a real passion for football in Scotland and propels you in to the limelight, which isn’t necessarily the case back home.
Despite growing up in the USA, you are a second-generation American, with your grandparents on your fathers side being Scottish - did you grow up watching British football? Yeah, it was always on in the house! With my dad having played in England and the English Premier League being the spectacle that it is, it meant that it was always on.
Your grandfather was born in Dundee. Did that have any impact on your move to Tannadice? Honestly, not too much! He never really spoke too much about his upbringing in Dundee. But once the opportunity arose for me to come over here, he was delighted; over the moon. He started telling me stories about Dundee at that point!
You were born in Derby when your father was playing for Derby County - was it always your intention to return to the UK to play football? Yeah, 100%. It was always a goal of mine. I wasn’t sure where my career was going to take me after university. I signed for D.C. United which was great for me, as it allowed me to play for my hometown club - that was really exciting. But I definitely wanted to progress over to the UK and test myself here.
How did your move to Dundee United come about then? It was through the Sporting Director at the club - Tony Asghar. He got in touch with the American owners who were looking to bring in some players from overseas. Thereafter, they got in touch with my agent. My agent brought Perry Kitchen over to Hearts, so he has a bit of a portfolio there! Dundee United were looking for a midfielder and my contract was coming to end at D.C. United, so it all fell in to place really.
Your fiancé also recently signed for Celtic. Having played in different leagues throughout both of your careers, how good has it been playing in the same country? It’s been massive for me. We were effectively in a long distance relationship for a long time! So, when the chance came up for her to sign for Celtic, it was great on both a personal and professional level. She’s really enjoyed it and so have I.
Is there any footballing rivalry between you guys? (Laughs) Nah there’s not. I don’t think so anyway!
Just on your family, both your parents were also footballers. Did they drill football in to you when you were growing up in the States or were you allowed to play any other sports? It was always football from the beginning but I did try my hand at a couple of others sports as that is the culture in America. I played a little bit of basketball. I actually played rugby in high school.. but I quit that before everyone got too big!
Your dad played at a very high level in his career, playing in the English Premier League and at two World Cups. How big an inspiration has your father been in your career? When I was younger I didn’t really grasp the heights he had reached in his career: playing in FA Cup Finals, playing at Wembley, the World Cups as you mentioned. But, as I got older, he was a great influence on me. He just let me enjoy the game and find my own path. My mom was the same, as she played as well. I can always go to him to talk about experiences and he can give me advice which has been good for me.