The media (and everybody else) are all a-Twitter over this 7-year-old child, Lionel Angel Coira of Argentina, signing a contract to play soccer for Real Madrid. What isn’t reported, or even mentioned, is that this likely has not all that much to do with talent or potential but everything to do with money.
Not money to the kid; money to the soccer team.
Auto racing — natch — discovered this little scam first, as the result of Lewis Hamilton winning the world championship while driving for McLaren. It was revealed then that McLaren owner Ron Dennis had taken Hamilton under his wing when he was only 12 and had "developed" him into a Formula One driver.
While it’s undoubtedly true that Dennis was impressed by Hamilton’s talent and determination to succeed, and that his guidance of the young Hamilton was “on the house,” it didn’t take long for any number of other F1 teams and several in NASCAR to launch "driver development" programs in which families are being charged huge amounts of money for their children to participate.
I know of youngsters whose parents are paying F1 teams upwards of $25 million to turn them into the next Sebastien Vettel. Yes, it might be said that those teams are developing the next generation of drivers but they’re also improving the corporate bottom line in the process which, I suggest, is a path that some in professional soccer are starting to go down now. Or thinking about it. Or maybe already doing it.
I also know of young Canadian drivers who have been ripped off royally by NASCAR “driver development programs.” Their future is bright – until the money runs out.
And everybody seems to be in on it. I still have press releases in which a prominent NASCAR Sprint Cup star extols the virtue and potential of one young Canadian in particular, who was being schooled by a Cup team owner before being farmed out to a team owned by the driver. Reading what that driver said about his young Canadian protégée, you’d have thought the kid was a cinch to win the Sprint Cup title someday.
But just like that, the price went up and the kid’s folks couldn’t afford to continue paying and if you ask that NASCAR star today about his budding Canadian superstar, the answer will more-than-likely be, “Pete Who?”
It's human nature for parents to want to give their kids the best of everything they can afford. And some of those children may very well grow up to be the next Michael Schumacher or David Beckham. But there's preying at work here, and economic exploitation at its worst.
It will be interesting to see what dad's reaction will be when, at the end of the day and $25 or $30 million later, he's told his son really isn't good enough for F1. Or big-league soccer.