Making waves in the US sports pages was this week’s reported "contract" signing of 7-year-old Argentinean football wonder Leonel Angel Coira to Spain’s Real Madrid. Is it a contract for wonder boy “to avoid paying huge transfer fees when [his] potential blossoms," as an AP story says?
“There is no contract,” said Juan Tapiador, manager of the children’ division of Real Madrid. There is no exchange of money or long term commitment on either side. Young Coria – or his parents rather – signed a one-year deal to join the team, which is the bureaucratic equivalent of a boy joining Little League.
All it binds Coria to is to play exclusively for Real Madrid this year. It doesn’t pay a cent. It provides top-of-the-line training in exchange for termed loyalty. The parents, in other words, gave their son permission to play in the prestigious children’ team. Nothing else. They can renew in a year or decide to play in another team.
This is by no means a first-time event or even unusual. Every year dozens of Spanish boys and girls join all sorts of sporting teams under the same conditions. Real Madrid on average signs five or six boys between 9 and 11 every year, Tapiador says. The novelty is that for next season the team has created an even younger team of between 7- and 9-year-olds, which Coria will play in.
That is not to say that Real Madrid is an altruistic sporting machine. If even one of these boys makes it to stardom, the clubs can conceivably save millions in real contract signings a decade down the line.
The world’s best player Lionel Messi, for example, was brought up in Barcelona’s soccer academy from an early age. Years of training now have allowed the club to book an asset worth more than $200 million.
Whether Coria will be the next Messi, as he dreams of, is far from certain. But it will be years before his talents translate into a sporting contract.