Seven-year-old Australian forward Cruz Maisano has signed up to the youth academy of Spanish club Levante UD.
Maisano, the son of former Marconi and Young Socceroos midfielder Marco, has joined the La Liga outfit. The youngster is managed by ex-Socceroo and NSL star Gabriel Mendez.
Mendez secured a trial for Maisano last year and, after catching the eye of officials at the Valenica-based club, the Australian was offered a deal.
“His dad called me just over a year ago for me to arrange some trials,” Mendez explained to The World Game.
“He sent some video over, I did some homework on him and I provided that opportunity for him. He spent some time with Levante and they were interested after the first couple of weeks.
“They said the kid looks interesting, he’s switched on, he’s got great technique, he’s quick. So he had a lot of things going for him at the age of six.
“A few weeks later, we stayed in touch and they said they wanted Cruz to come back. They wanted to have a look at him in a few games, in a competitive environment.
“So we got him back to the club, the kid did really well, he’s street-smart. They really liked him and he’s been here now for six months.
“It’s taken a while for the family to settle in, to get the paperwork over the line, they have an Italian background so they are committed to staying in the country.”
Maisano made his official league debut two weeks ago and Mendez says the whizz-kid has impressed the Granotas hierarchy.
“He’s doing really well,” the 46-year-old said. "He’s a kid who gets on really with his teammates, he’s learning the language, so credit to his parents.
“They’re prepared to make the move and take their chances. But in all honesty when you get presented with an opportunity like that, it’s hard to say no.
“Levante have ages from five all the way through to the first team in La Liga. They’ve got different divisions in age groups.
“Cruz has been training with his age group and the top team. And also one year above with the under-8s. So he’s training four times a week currently and then with games on the weekends.
“But, again, it varies. His age group trains two or three times a week but he’s doing the extras because they believe he’s learning very quickly and because he can handle it.”
Mendez describes Maisano as a versatile forward who can play up front but also across the midfield.
“He scores goals for fun, he’s very quick and skillful,” he said.
“He’s a forward, he’s a number 10, he’s a seven, depending on who they play against and how they’re going to utilise him in that game.
“He’ll play out wide and then come back into the middle. He’ll play a bit more of a free role. Anywhere from halfway to forward, he can play anywhere.”
Levante are a 110-year-old club based in Spain’s eastern coast. Nicknamed ‘The Frogs’, and once home to Johan Cruyff, they currently sit in 11th spot on the La Liga table.
Maisano has relocated to Valencia with his family to chase his footballing dream. Mendez, who is acting as a mentor to the seven-year-old, believes Spain is the best place for the young Aussie to develop.
“You place a young kid in an environment where they demand 100% commitment on and off the park,” he said.
“They’re not only coaching the boys on the park, it’s the education, the respect factor, the way they conduct themselves off the park, it’s the full package. And in the last six months he’s been here I’ve seen the kid grow immensely.
“You mature quickly because the environment demands it. There’s football around you 24-7. So these kids are surrounded by it.
“It’s good to have someone at that young age in an environment competing against the best of the best.”
Mendez’s company’s GM Global Sports is based in Spain and was launched five years ago. It manages professional players but also provides programs and football tours to Europe.
“It all started with my son Gian here signing for Valencia,” he explained.
“We’ve got access to a lot of football communities back home in Australia and around the world. We think there’s an opportunity to open up doors for young, aspiring kids.
“We provide a full range of opportunities and just place players from around the world with elite clubs.
“I’ve been a past professional footballer and I want to see as many of our kids get over the line as possible.”