Even as Ian Harkes enjoyed a sunshine break in the States, he couldn’t escape talk of his Dundee United future.
Tannadice teammate Nicky Clark made sure of it.
The United duo have become firm friends during their time in the City of Discovery; so much so, that Clark and his wife joined Harkes and his partner in California over the summer.
And, while the holiday was all about rest and relaxation, it was impossible to ignore the elephant in the room as an out-of-contract Harkes weighed up his options.
“I was away with Nicky Clark in the summer — we are good friends with him and his wife,” said Harkes. “We have grown close so got them out to California this summer.
“He was like Agent Clark! He was in my ear a lot to stay on and was asking me what was going on.
“Even though we’re on holiday, you still discuss it; it’s still our lives.
“He was being persuasive, telling me to get back across. And, although there were one or two things mentioned — my agent was speaking to people — in the end I wanted to be here.”
‘Weighing everything up’
However, Harkes is keen to emphasise that his period of consideration was not intended to be ‘disrespectful’ towards Dundee United.
Nor was it about money.
The classy midfielder wanted the assurance of speaking to new boss, Jack Ross, following the fourth managerial change Harkes has experienced at United.
What a strike 🚀
Ian Harkes puts Dundee United in the lead! pic.twitter.com/5Wtafsa8xS
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“I just took a bit of time for myself in the summer to weigh everything up, just like any player would,” continued Harkes.
“This club has been amazing to me so I don’t want anyone to think I took it for granted here. I hope me waiting wasn’t taken as disrespect to the club.
“We just spent a bit of time going back and forward before getting it sorted. I felt I made good steps in my game last season so I want to keep improving.
“One of the reasons for the delay was the change in manager; that’s four in four years now. So, every year we have been starting again, starting anew and impressing a new manager.
“But I spoke to the new manager, everything was good and positive.
“I think getting Jack Ross is great for us — his CV speaks for itself. He’s a seasoned manager who everyone is behind, and pushing together with.”
Indeed, Harkes — United’s 2021/22 player of the year — has now worked under Robbie Neilson, Micky Mellon, Tam Courts and Ross during his 131 appearances.
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“It probably gives off the wrong kind of feel,” Harkes smiled, addressing the persistent turnover in the dugout. “But we are in a very good position.
“Every manager had their own reasons for coming and going — and the club moves on. It’s says everything about the group that we keep improving.
With a mouth-watering Europa Conference League third qualifying round clash against AZ Alkmaar looming next Thursday, Harkes added: “Playing in Europe was also a factor because I haven’t experienced that in my career.”
What does the future hold?
While Harkes’ sole focus is on Saturday’s Premiership curtain-raiser against Kilmarnock and subsequent showdown with AZ, signing a one-year deal means his future could be up in the air once more next summer.
“I had ambitions to come to the UK when I left DC United because I have citizenship and wanted to experience it,” continued Harkes. “Coming here has helped me improve my game — it has been fantastic for me.
“If it takes me somewhere else in the future then that’s good, if it’s the right step. I am always open to it. But the fact is Dundee United have always been great to me.”
The Tangerines’ trip to Rugby Park will be their first competitive outing of the campaign and it is imperative they hit the ground running, with a run of five games in 15 days on the horizon.
“It’s going to be extremely tough with the schedule we have,” added Harkes. “We’ll have a lot of games back-to-back. We need to be up for it and manage it properly.”