The transactions of European soccer clubs are not the type of news I monitor on an hourly basis, but a contract signing the other day piqued my interest.
Leonel Angel Coira, an Argentine whose family has relocated to Madrid, agreed to a one-year deal with a Real Madrid developmental team. He’ll begin training with the club Sept. 6, with hopes of someday achieving the international success of his legendary countryman Lionel Messi.
Oh, by the way. Leonel Angel Coira is 7.
The boy won’t earn a salary – the agreement figures to cover only transportation costs – but he’s in possession of a contract, and already has granted an interview with a Spanish newspaper.
“Gotta take it one day at a time,” he said. “The key is to never get too high or too low, because the one thing I’ve found out about this sport is that it can humble you in a heartbeat.”
I’m joking. Leonel didn’t say that.
What he said was: “My dream is to meet Messi, play with the first division with Madrid and for Argentina in the World Cup.”
Did I mention the kid is only 7? When I was 7, my dream was to meet Santa Claus – by then I had determined the Easter Bunny to be a hoax – and play on a rocket ship in outer space.
Actually, my seventh year on this crazy planet is pretty much a blur.
I remember watching Bozo the Clown at lunch and The Three Stooges after school and Superman on Saturday mornings. I liked chocolate ice cream cones and didn’t care for beets or cabbage. I was scared of spiders, sirens, the bully who lived around the corner, and girls.
I’d have been OK with the idea of playing a sport with some older kids in a developmental league, I suppose, as long as the grown-ups promised to drop me off at the field on time, and pick me up at the field on time, and stay the heck away the rest of the time.
As for signing my name on a bottom line, well, that would’ve demanded handwriting, a skill I had yet to acquire. Had I attempted to read half a page of legalese on a contract, my head would’ve exploded. (The suspicion lingers to this day.)
A photo of a grinning Leonel reveals a shaggy-haired child who appears no different than any other shaggy-haired child, except this shaggy-haired child is holding a contract to play soccer for a year.
And you wonder why the U.S. men’s team has never won a World Cup?
After Leonel agreed to terms with Real Madrid, a newspaper in Argentina reported he was the youngest player to be under contract in Spain.
Real Madrid officials are disputing that, although they can’t offer examples of a contract awarded to anybody younger than 7.
About this there is no doubt: Leonel Angel Coira is not the most precocious soccer talent in Europe.
In April, VVV-Vento, a top-division team in the Netherlands, awarded a contract to Baerke van der Meij.
He couldn’t have known that the crayon scribble he put to a piece of paper represented his signature, because young Baerke, a grandson of a former VVV-Vento star, is all of 18 months old.
Video clips of the child kicking three balls into a toy box circulated on YouTube, and the Dutch club, in an apparent promotional ploy, inked him – er, crayoned him? – to a 10-year “token” pact.
“The toddler’s favorite position has not been determined,” VVV-Vento noted in a statement. “But we can speak of a right-footed player with a very good kicking technique, perseverance and, importantly, football genes via his grandfather.”
Ah, Europeans. They’re so very … different.
I’ll give Europe this much: It’s the worldwide leader, the undisputed intercontinental champion, of prodigies.
At the age of 7, Frederic Chopin authored two polonaises – Polish slow dances – one in G minor, the other in B-flat major. Spain’s Lope de Vega spoke fluent Latin when he was 5. (He didn’t write his first play until he was 12, the slacker.) Hungarian-born mathematician John von Neumann was 6 when he was able to divide two eight-digit numbers without the assistance of a calculator, or, for that matter, a pencil.
Pablo Picasso was painting masterpieces in Spain before his 10th birthday, which wouldn’t have impressed Salzburg’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose first two works – an andante in C, and an allegro in C – were composed when he was 5.
Given the genius of his child-prodigy predecessors, 7-year old Leonel Angel Coira’s quest to play for Real Madrid’s first-division squad almost seems modest.
But he’s got something Chopin, Picasso and Mozart never had as children. He’s got a contract.
Congratulations, young man, and don’t worry if you haven’t read the whole thing through.
All you need to know about your contract is that there’s no Santa clause.