Making the grade into the football stratosphere is every aspiring kid’s dream once he takes up the sport.
Oliver Smith is one who looks certain to reach those rarefied heights judging by how well he’s done so far.
Not 14 until March yet he’s already scored over 100 goals for Future Sporting Club in West Bay.
Thankfully, for opposing teams, Smith is now furthering his immense football skills and education at boarding school in England, but the hearts of opposing players must have sunk on seeing him here over the festive period, albeit temporarily.
Smith returns to the UK today and on current form Premiership scouts will be vying for the central midfielder to sign within a couple of years.
Through a contact, Smith attended a football camp in Portugal last August where Sporting Lisbon scouts looked on. Suitably impressive, he was picked for a trial three weeks ago and did well, scoring both goals in his side’s 2-1 win as a supporting striker.
But on the second day Smith sprained his ankle and couldn’t play again. The Sporting Lisbon coaches saw enough talent though to invite him back next month during half-term break for another trial. If successful, he could be joining their world renowned academy in September.
The standard at the Sporting trial was extremely high, according to Smith. He should know having been to summer camps at Manchester United and Chelsea.
‘Sporting Lisbon’s standard must be one of the best in the world,’ Smith says. ‘I’ve seen the standard at Manchester United and Chelsea but Sporting’s academy must be up there with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
‘Sporting has produced players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo. They have a good team that gets into the Champions League but a lot of their best players have moved on to even bigger clubs.’
Although joining Sporting is exciting, being British-Caymanian and not able to speak Portuguese is a little daunting. ‘I would prefer to be based in London but to be in the Sporting Lisbon academy would still be an honour for me if I got the chance.’
He did well at Manchester United, getting to the final of their skills camp two years ago and competing in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford before a game. One of the youngest of the finalists, Smith excelled but it was not enough to attract an offer from the United scouts. It could be one of their biggest misses.
Yet he is modest about his own ability and claims some Caymanians kids have an even better chance of making the grade if only they had the dedication.
‘Some Caymanian youngsters are naturally talented,’ says Smith. ‘They are quicker than me and bigger build but I guess I was in a better situation and my parents are able to afford to send me away to school.’
Nevertheless, he realises that no amount of money can compensate for sheer hard work and is inspired by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who literally slept with their footballs. (Messi even said recently that even now the best Christmas present anyone can give him is a football.)
Some talented youngsters are not prepared to put the effort in to make the grade, but Smith definitely has that work ethic.
‘I heard that Ronaldo used to get up at three in the morning to do weight sessions and also wake up at six and go play football before school. He just had that discipline and his mentality was that he loved to play football.’
Practicing skills after school and running to improve his fitness levels are the extra sessions Smith puts in.
He attends the celebrated Millfield School in Somerset, south-west England, a boarding school that specialises in combining sport with education to an exceptionally high level.
Former pupils include rugby legends Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams and Olympic swimming champ Duncan Goodhew.
It may be chilly in Cayman but nothing like the perishing temperatures in Europe right now. Smith is grateful he was able to defrost here over the festive season and is dreading returning to the icy conditions. At least the thought of a glorious football career generates an inner glow.
Coach Roy ‘Huta’ Ebanks is the Future coach who has honed Smith’s skills since the age of five.
‘Right now Oliver has come on to be one of my most outstanding kids that I have had an opportunity to coach in my entire career,’ says the veteran Huta.
‘What I like best is his humble attitude, his willingness to learn and his open mind. He’s just a phenomenal kid in terms of his whole psychological makeup.
‘He’s very respectful to his peers, staff and coaches. Since he’s been away people keep asking when he is playing here again because they miss him. Even when he was 12 and I was picking teams, the seniors would ask which team I was going to pick Oliver for. They wanted him on their side.
‘I hope that other kids in Cayman who are aspiring to go further in the game, whether at semi-pro, college or pro level, can use him as an example.
‘If he can get the right exposure early and get his foot in the door in one of the professional clubs, I think he has an equal chance with anybody to become a pro.’
Oliver’s mum Suzanne is pleased with his progress. ‘He’s had a good start with the football at Millfield and that was a very lucky break with Sporting Lisbon when he was in Portugal last summer and one of their coaches saw him and invited him for a trial with their academy.’
Suzanne and husband Henry would prefer Oliver to get an offer with a top club in England ‘but those opportunities haven’t come up to meet us,’ she says.
‘But that might come up down the line at Millfield when he starts playing at county level and in select teams.
‘Coping with the cold has been a big adjustment for him and his biggest challenge will be going back to Millfield in the middle of winter when he’s been here in the warmth.
‘Every parent whose children have gone before have said that the most difficult time has been January when they go back after they’ve had such a long break in the warm weather. I’ve been prepping him for it and now he’s claiming he’s not going back!’
At Millfield, Smith has settled well. His house master is the assistant football coach, which helps. Dormitory house master happens to be Richard Ellison, former England cricketer who helped England win the Ashes in the 1985 series.
Playing hockey for the first time in Arctic conditions was not Smith’s idea of sporting fun and by all accounts the accomplished hockey players were not sorry to see him move back to football!
Not surprising when that is the only sport he seems destined to do.