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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Man Utd video star faces tough task

By Caroline Cheese

Rhain Davis - pic courtesy of Davis family
Nine-year-old midfielder
Played for Moreton Bay Boys College and Redlands United in Brisbane
Registered with Manchester United after they were sent a DVD of him by his England-based grandfather
Qualifies to play for England through his father's side and has a British passport
If you didn't know the name Rhain Davis before, you almost certainly do now.

The nine-year-old, a recent recruit for Manchester United's academy, is now the talk of football - thanks to a DVD of him in action for Brisbane club Redlands United.

He even made the front page of The Sun newspaper - who have immediately, and somewhat inevitably, dubbed him the new Wayne Rooney.

An unnamed 'source' told the paper: "He has created a huge buzz and people are raving about him all over the world."

The video, which is said to have already had more than three million viewers on YouTube, is undeniably impressive. The youngster dances round defenders, performs some step-overs a la Cristiano Ronaldo and delivers defence-splitting passes.

It is easy to see why United invited Davis to move 11,000 miles from Brisbane to Manchester after they were sent the DVD of him in action by his Cheshire-based grandfather.

But the new Wayne Rooney?

The man who coached Rooney as a boy, Everton's academy manager Ray Hall, warns there are no guarantees.

"I've heard a lot of talk about prodigies but I can tell you that no child is treated any differently from another when they're that young," he told BBC Five Live.

"We never make any promises. All we're doing is providing youngsters with an opportunity to achieve their dreams."

Joe Cole in 1999
Joe Cole was dubbed the new Gazza when he was younger
Understandably, United have tempered expectations, reiterating that they take on 30 nine-year-olds every year, of which Davis is only one.

Davis must now survive the annual cut at Old Trafford and even if he does that, there is little guarantee he will play for United.

"The number of United academy graduates going into professional football is quite high," United spokesman Phil Townsend told BBC Sport.

"But of the current United first-team squad, only one English player (Danny Simpson) came from the academy."

And of course, we have been here before with some much-celebrated child prodigies, some of whom make it (like Joe Cole) and some of whom don't.

Football agent Sky Andrews says it is impossible to tell which way a nine-year-old will go.

"Joe Cole is a phenomenon because he was a child prodigy who came through," he said.

"A lot of kids have talent but it's an overrated attribute. When you get older, other things come into play like attitude and stickability."

As a cautionary tale, Andrews cited the example of Sonny Pike, who hit the headlines as a seven-year-old when he was invited to train with Ajax's renowned academy.

Overwhelmed by the pressure, Pike suffered a nervous breakdown in 2000 before abandoning professional football altogether three years later.

Joe Cole
Dubbed the new Gazza at West Ham academy, Man Utd were said to be willing to pay 10m for him as a 16-year-old. Now Chelsea and England star
Sonny Pike
Taken on by Ajax academy at age of seven. Quit football after nervous breakdown
Freddy Adu
Signed professional contract at 14. Trained with Man Utd last year. Now 17, he joined Benfica this summer
Cherno Samba
Scored 132 goals in 32 games as a 13-year-old. Was released by Millwall in 2004. Now at Plymouth
But Hall strikes a far more optimistic note.

"Wayne Rooney is the player that everybody knows but we actually had five boys in the same intake that are now playing in other football leagues," he said.

"So out of 14 nine-year-olds, six are making a living and that's not a bad percentage."

But what happened to the other eight?

"It depends what age they are when we let them go," he explained.

"Some leave when they are 12, some when they are 16. If they wish to find another club, we'll try to organise that for them but some boys have just had enough and go back to university."

So for all the talk of being the next Rooney, Davis' immediate target is much more simple: to earn a full-time scholarship with United when he turns 12.

After that, the hard work really begins.

Ferguson attacks academy system
16 Feb 07 |  Man Utd
Growing pains of a child prodigy
27 May 06 |  Americas
Samba dancing again
19 Sep 06 |  Plymouth Argyle
Making the grade at Man City
16 May 07 |  Man City


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