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MADRID (AP) — He has a contract with one of soccer’s biggest clubs and the same long, floppy hair and nickname Leo of his idol, Lionel Messi.
It may take awhile, however, before Leonel Angel Coira can match the wondrous Messi: He is 7 years old.
Real Madrid said Monday it signed the Argentine prodigy to its youth academy after seeing him in tryouts. He will start training with Madrid’s youth team in September.
Coira hopes to follow the path set by Messi, a countryman who joined Barcelona from the Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys as a teenager and has gone on to win the World Player of the Year award two times.
“(My) dream is to meet Messi, play in the first division with Madrid and for Argentina in the World Cup,” Coira told a Spanish newspaper.
The signing underscores the tactics of top teams scooping up fresh talent as early as possible to avoid paying huge transfer fees when their potential blossoms.
Coira’s family moved to Madrid three years ago after his father, Miguel, was offered a job in the Spanish capital. Miguel Coira coaches a local youth club where Leonel played and first caught the eye of a Madrid scout.
The 7-year-old was then invited to a trial with Madrid and signed a one-year contract with the club’s youngest team, the “Benjamin” squad, made up of mostly under-9 players.
Madrid reportedly made the push to sign Coira because Atletico Madrid was also pursuing the youngster.
“After tryouts with both clubs, he felt more comfortable with (Real) Madrid,” Miguel Coira told ABC. “I trust the club a lot. I know they will take good care of him.”
Club spokesman Juan Tapiador said Coira wasn’t the youngest player ever to sign with Madrid, although he couldn’t name anyone younger.
He said players of any age can join Real Madrid, with one stipulation.
“They only have to be a standout,” he said. “We look for something different, that quality or talent that makes them stand out from the rest.”
Signing children is nothing new in soccer, where almost every professional club has an extensive youth academy where dozens of young players live and train from the age of 11.