Leonel Angel Coira, who goes by the name Leo, is being hailed as the soccer world's newest star player. The Spanish soccer powerhouse Real Madrid recently signed Leo to a one-year renewable contract. Only one small catch: Leo is just 7 years old. Though Leo has the support of his soccer-loving family — his father is a soccer coach, and his older brother plays for the Spanish team Real Valladolid — some question whether there should be a minimum age for junior soccer players. Leo will start training with Real Madrid's youth squad this fall. Is he too young to join a professional sports organization?
Yes. Leo is obviously far too young: "I am shocked that this happened," says Roberto Alvarez-Galloso at Bleacher Report. Though some young children thrive in the high-pressure world of competitive sports, "the majority may suffer burnout on an emotional scale." The overwhelming pressure can cause young athletes to turn to "performance-enhancing drugs, or simply give up on sports. Hopefully this problem can resolve itself for Leo's sake."
"Real Madrid signs 7-year-old amidst doubts"
Sadly, there's nothing unusual about this: "Signing children is nothing new," says Mark Walsh for the Associated Press. Professional sports teams — especially soccer teams — scout young players to join their youth academies all the time. Barcelona's famous "La Masia" soccer club has dozens of players under the age of 12, and though it was largely symbolic, the Dutch club VVV Venlo recently signed an 18-month-old toddler to a 10-year contract "after seeing his ability to kick a soccer ball."
"Real Madrid signs 7-year-old soccer prodigy"
Such marketing gimmicks are all about money: In addition to Leo's signing, it's been rumored that Brazilian superstar Pelé might come out of retirement "for one last hurrah," says . Both of these developments are mere marketing ploys. "Are we in danger of losing what is important in this game in the name of revenue and ratings?" Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes.
"Too young? Too old to be a soccer pro?"