He hobbled off the plane at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Tuesday on crutches, but that was not such a big deal for Corey Mellaneo, captain of the triumphant Under-15 Cayman Islands national football team.
Mellaneo had led Cayman to third place in the Caribbean Football Union championships in Anguilla and St. Maarten and picked up a torn ankle ligament along the way. He did it when landing awkwardly from heading the ball, yet played on and completed the match.
It may need surgery but that is merely a consequence of playing the sport he loves.
Mellaneo, 15, stood out at the CFU Championships not just for his playing ability, but also his leadership skills in his first international competition.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “With the short preparation we had, I think we did well overall and I think we should have won the game against Dominican Republic if the ref hadn’t made a bad decision.”
Dominican Republic won 1-0 after scoring from a harshly given penalty from a handball.
“Next year for the World Cup Qualifiers at U-17 I think we will do good in it,” Mellaneo said.
Millions of teenage boys obsessed with fulfilling their dreams of making it in the game have the backing of their family, but few make the same sacrifice as Mellaneo’s mother Antoinette.
Exactly a year ago, she moved with Corey from Cayman to England to increase her son’s chances of making it in the game. A big Arsenal fan, he dreams of donning the team’s red and white jersey at the Emirates one day.
Based in Canterbury, Kent, a town on the east coast, they initially found things tough to get used to. But after a while even the chilly weather, bland cuisine and different customs and culture were bearable.
The defensive midfielder has had trials with pro clubs Charlton and Gillingham so far. He did not get accepted but said the scouts were suitably impressed to look out for him in future games.
Mellaneo believes he has the talent to make it as a pro but is aware that the competition is fierce, “so I’ll just have to work harder and try my best and see what happens.”
He admits it was not love at first sight when he arrived in the U.K. “As soon as I got there I was environmentally shocked,” he smiled. “But after a few months I got used to it.”