John Harkes is a player that many will perhaps forget featured in Derby County’s promotion-winning side of 1995/96, albeit briefly.
The New Jersey born USA international midfielder had joined Derby at the beginning of the 1993/94 season from top flight side Sheffield Wednesday, where he had enjoyed reasonable success by lifting the League Cup in 1991 and also reaching the 1993 finals of the League and FA Cup.
He had moved to England to join the Owls in 1990, from Albany Capitals, and for the next 10 years he was a mainstay in his country’s national side, playing in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
Harkes checked in at Derby in the early stages of the 1993/94 season for a reported fee of £600,000 and, when fit, he was a regular in the team during his first campaign, which ended in Play-Off Final heartbreak against Leicester City.
He featured more sporadically during the first half of the following campaign before securing his place as a regular in the side in the closing three months of the season, as the Rams missed out on place in the top six in Roy McFarland’s final season as manager.
Harkes started seven of Jim Smith’s first eight games in charge of Derby, coming off the bench in the other match, before being deemed surplus to requirements by the Bald Eagle. His last appearance came in a 2-2 draw away to Portsmouth on 16th September 1995.
Harkes moved back to the Premier League for the rest of the 1995/96 season soon after his final appearance in a Rams shirt, moving on loan to West Ham United for the remainder of the season.
At the end of his contract, he returned to America and represented DC United, New England Revolution and Columbus Crew before announcing his retirement. In 1999, he returned to England for a brief spell, joining Nottingham Forest on loan as they were relegated to the First Division.
Since retiring from the game, Harkes was worked as soccer analyst on a number of sports channels in America and also worked in coaching - at professional and youth level.
Speaking to dcfc.co.uk in an interview in 2016, Harkes said: “It was a new challenge coming to Derby County. Lionel Pickering was the owner at the time and was putting together a new type of look at the club, especially with the team.
“After just three years in England at that time, I felt like a veteran player because the average age of the squad was quite low.
“From my perspective I was 26 turning 27 so that was something new for me. We had a great group of lads and the history and tradition of the club made it an exciting period in my playing career.
“The club was spending big at that time and the intentions were good to assemble a squad of players to take us up.
“It perhaps needed a bit more time for the team to grow and develop. When you spend a lot of money, there’s always high expectations. When we lost to Leicester in the Play-Off Final it was disappointing and hard to take.
“Those are parts of the game that you have to use to become better, as motivation so to speak. We had enough talent to go up but the game can be cruel sometimes and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of it.”
Harkes, ironically, made his mark at the Baseball Ground some three years before joining Derby.
Shortly after joining Wednesday, he scored a superb long-range strike for the Owls as they claimed a 2-1 victory in a League Cup Fourth Round replay.
Some 30-yards out, he unleashed a right-foot strike which flew into the top corner past Peter Shilton; a moment where he announced his arrival in the English game.
He recalled: “It was my first goal in English football and it came against a highly-respected and quality England international in Peter Shilton.
“For me it was special because it took me a while to break into the English game and get myself a contract. I was fighting for it and after the World Cup it was what I wanted to do; I had the passion.”
Harkes left Derby after making 85 appearances in total, scoring three times.
Now 53, Harkes is the Sporting Director and Head Coach of Greenville Triumph SC in USL League One.
He had a spell in charge of FC Cincinnati but still follows the Rams when he can.
He added: “I follow the Derby games as much as I can, we have some games shown live in the States.
“It’s a case of carving out time where you can, whether it is watching them online or on social media.”
Harkes continues to have a keen eye on football in Scotland too with his 25-year-old Derby-born son, Ian, currently playing for Dundee United in the Scottish Championship.