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Bill Plaschke: Real Madrid signing 7-year-old is not so beautiful

August 9, 2011 |  2:54 pm

Since long before Beckham first bent it, Americans have viewed European soccer with a mixture of admiration and jealousy.

Their sport is “pure.” Their athletes are “untainted.” Their game is, you know, “beautiful.”

All of which made it very interesting to witness this week’s big load of ugly.

Real Madrid, the soccer version of the New York Yankees, signed a shaggy-haired star who has a great pedigree, a penchant for passing, and only one tiny problem.

The kid is 7 years old.

His name is Leonel Angel Coira, he was born in Argentina, he signed a one-year contract, he will begin playing with Real Madrid’s youth academy next month and … wait. He couldn’t have actually signed the contract, right? Don’t some 7-year-olds still have trouble spelling their last names?

“They only have to be a standout,” club spokesman Juan Tapiador told the Associated Press. “We look for something different, that quality or talent that makes them stand out from the rest.”

What stands out here is the unsightly lengths that these European teams will travel in search of these graceful championships.

Coira is not alone among children who are dragged through the European soccer system, as many club teams have youth academies with teams playing in league that begin at age 9. Coira’s family already lives in Madrid, and, according to his father, he is not yet paid a salary, he is only paid for, "transport,’’ but seriously.

When my children were 7, their best kicking was accompanied by screaming, their favorite net was the one above their bed that held their stuffed animals, and their goooooooal was to memorize the songs from Barney.

Europeans often accuse American sports of being brutish and ego-driven, but what is more exploitive than signing a child to an adult contract with all of its adult pressures? Heck, the NBA, which many consider the most loutish of leagues, won’t even accept players until a year after high school.

No, this is not like USC offering a scholarship to a 13-year-old quarterback, because the kid stays in school, and the commitment is not binding. And no, this is not like the legion of young American gymnasts and tennis players who are sent off to sports academies while they are still wearing pull-ups. The kids are not paid to play, and all the pressure comes from the parents who do the paying.

The worst thing about the Coira signing is that Real Madrid allegedly moved quickly because he was being recruited by another Spanish team.

No, wait, the worst thing is that spokesman Tapiador said the kid was not the youngest player ever signed by the powerhouse.



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Photo: In this undated photo, Argentine soccer player Leonel Angel Coira posses for a picture at the Real Madrid club in Madrid. Credit: Coira Family / Associated Press