Manchester United has staked their claim to future glory this weekend, signing highly touted soccer phenom Rhain Davis.
This news would likely bring about press in any event, since England is such a futbol-crazed nation and ManU is one of the premier squads in the country, but extra attention is being paid this time, because Rhain Davis is only nine years old.
This is a very interesting situation. The football club is playing it off, talking about how Rhain is now merely a student at their soccer academy, how they sign as many as 40 players Rhain's age every year and then decide on a year-to-year basis whether to bring them back. I have no reason to doubt their motive, it seems genuine enough. The true intrigue lies elsewhere.
The story becomes strange because the only reason the United futbol club was aware of Davis' abilities is that his grandfather had mailed them a DVD highlight reel of his play. Add to that the fact that the very same highlight reel video recently crossed over two million views in only two weeks since its posting on YouTube, and you have a brand new pop-culture star.
This story brings up any number of interesting topics. How young is too young to begin pushing our youth towards potential superstardom and all of the highs (and lows) that accompany it? Is it just a way for parents (and, apparently, grandparents) to assuage their own egos? In viewing the video, he obviously is a talented player, though it has not been explained why Davis has been left to run circles around other kids his age instead of being moved into a more competitive bracket.
Perhaps that's what this move to the academy will be, the leap forward that Rhain could not acquire living in Austrailia. In a few years we could be reading about the "next big thing" for ManU and/or the English national team.
It's equally possible that, in just a few years time, he will have "buckled under the pressure" or "not lived up to his potential" (slang for "we thought he still had room to develop, but this is as good as it gets"), and he will already have fallen off the map of even Manchester United, let alone any larger sporting perspective.
At the same time, what kind of frenzy will this possibly create? Middle school football parents mailing highlight reel DVD's to Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith? Phil Jackson being inundated with mail, including the latest footage of a 9-year-old street-baller from Los Angeles? The pessimist in me can only see it as a bad thing, since parents pushing their children to not only succeed, but be a star, is certainly an issue already, and the last thing the collective parental group of this world needs is an excuse to do it even earlier in their child's development.
Who knows what Manchester United is getting involved in? It is entirely possible that by the time Rhain Davis graduates from high school, he will have decided that the pressure cooker of English soccer is not where he wants to spend the rest of his life, no matter how much money they give him. Or maybe he would have been a nothing blip, and having this opportunity to be groomed from an early age will be what turns him into the next can't-miss, worldwide megastar.
Davis has a lot more to learn, both in life and soccer, at the tender age of nine, so it is extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to make any sort of prognostication about how this unique story will pan out. I personally don't agree with it, primarily because I fear the backlash it will cause in youth athletics around the world. I like an environment where kids are taught all about "having fun," not "making it onto Sportscenter."Powered by Sidelines