Searching for the future stars

01 September 2009 - 23:12 By JOSHUA ROBINSON

WITH the competition to sign the stars of the future cutthroat, soccer teams are staking their claims on talent early.

WITH the competition to sign the stars of the future cutthroat, soccer teams are staking their claims on talent early.

And from Freddy Adu, who was billed as the next Pele at age 14, to Wayne Rooney, the bullish striker who has been scoring goals in the English Premier League since he was 16, soccer loves a wunderkind.

Manchester United's latest prospect, nine-year-old Australian Rhain Davis, is only an extension of the desire to get the next star first.

After Davis's grandfather sent United, the Premier League champions, a DVD of the boy playing for his under-11 team in Brisbane, Australia, the Manchester United FC Academy, a training camp designed to foster young talent, invited him to England for a tryout. Clearly impressed by what they saw, the academy directors accepted him last Thursday.

To the British tabloids, the nine-year-old has been shark bait. His picture has been splashed across sports pages under headlines like "Braziliant" and "Wizard of Oz".

United officials, however, are quick to point out that he is only one of 30 boys his age admitted to the academy's latest class.

Philip Townsend, a spokesman for United, said: "He'll be treated the same, he'll be expected to clean his kit, show discipline and aptitude while he receives coaching from us."

Les Kershaw, an adviser to United since retiring from his job as head of the academy last year, also would not single out Davis.

"He's just one of the boys in our academy."

With the hype, Davis has drawn his fair share of sceptics.

Alfonso Mondelo, who is in charge of Major League Soccer's youth development programme, said: "If you go on YouTube, you can find a hundred kids like that from Brazil and Argentina. I think this is a little bit over-the-top."

MLS took its first steps towards an academy-type setup last year when it began its partnership with the US Soccer Federation.

In Britain, players can sign with a team from age eight and may not live more than an hour away. Davis's family recently moved from Australia to the outskirts of Manchester. - ©(2007)New York Times

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