June 02, 2011
On Saturday, FC Barcelona won its fourth UEFA Champions League title, the second it has earned in the past three years. The victory cemented the club's place at the pinnacle of European football, with many -- Yahoo!'s own Martin Rogers among them -- calling the current Barcelona incarnation the greatest club team ever assembled.
Of course, the trick with Barcelona is that its top team is as much built from within as it is assembled, thanks to its youth development program, the pride of the organization. And now, for the first time, an American is joining that very outlet. According to a variety of sources (but first reported by the website BarcaLoco and soccer blog 3four3), Southern Californian Ben Lederman -- a 10-year-old who visited and worked out at the club's La Masia training complex in April -- signed a two-year development contract with the club's youth academy.
The American soccer prodigy, whose style of play and precocious ball control skills have drawn comparisons to Barcelona star Andres Iniesta (you can see him in action wearing number 10 below), accepted the team's offer, with his future in Catalonia to be reevaluated after his initial two-year stay at the club. His parents are also reportedly moving to Barcelona to be closer to their son as he continues his soccer development abroad.
While the professional moves of any number of prior American stars have been held up as hallmark moments -- with Landon Donovan's failed German adventures and loan deal with Everton, and striker Jozy Altidore's move to Villareal among them -- the signing of an American 10-year-old with what is almost inarguably the world's most decorated soccer development school (officials at Ajax's De Toekomst Academy in Amsterdam may beg to differ) is truly a watershed. For the first time, it signifies officials at the highest level possible recognizing that American youth soccer talent does in fact match up well with its global counterpart.
As for Lederman himself, who was raised as a Barcelona fan, the move almost surely marks the fulfillment of a dream, albeit earlier than he or anyone could have reasonably imagined. Of course, all of that is only speculation, as his parents and others have understandably protected him from public comment because of his age.
It's impossible to know if Lederman will still be a part of Barcelona's developmental plans in three years, let alone begin to predict when he might break through to the Barcelona senior team. After all, for every Leo Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Iniesta, there are dozens of Dos Santos brothers, incredibly talented players who never truly make the phenomenally high grade required to have a significant impact at a club like Barcelona.
Still, it's almost impossible not to dream of a day eight or ten years down the road when Lederman might make his way onto a Barcelona pitch -- or even any other field within the realm of La Liga -- representing the first American to break through as an authentically dual citizen of global soccer, a prospect who was raised on both American training and its counterpart at the world's best club.
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