Rhain Davis was at the Trafford Center with his parents when he began to realize what was going on.
Davis walked past someone with a newspaper and there was his nine-year-old face, pictured on the front page with the headline, “ROO KID ON THE BLOCK,” in bold capitals. The newspaper compared Davis to Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.
The youngster had just traveled 11,000 miles from Brisbane in Australia to Cheshire, to join United’s academy. Davis’ story had attracted national media attention after his grandfather sent scouts a DVD of his skills, to which United responded.
The video had gone viral on YouTube and had been viewed by millions of people, with Davis performing Cruyff jumps and turns.
Addressing the Manchester Evening News , Davis recalled that was the moment he realized the enormity of exactly what he was going through. The media compared a young child to the best English player.
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“It’s the only time I really remember being blown away by the size back then,” Davis said of the publicity in 2007. YouTube was big then, but social media was just up and coming. I think if it had happened now it would have been even more important.”
When Davis answered the phone, an Aussie accent was expected, but he laughed, admitting his Down Under accent was “long gone”. Davis lived in Knutsford, Cheshire, since arriving in England aged nine.
Davis paused for a moment as he brought his mind back to where it all began. He is now 24 years old and he kindly agreed to tell his story. “I really started early, my dad is British so football was a big part of his life and he embedded that in us when we were kids,” Davis said.
“My dad was actually the manager of my older brother, Emerson’s team. I started playing with those guys, a few years above me, so p lying with his age group, it was pretty obvious that I was better than kids my age.
“The games were filmed anyway, Australia sort of pioneered this video analysis, especially compared to England at this age group. My dad put together a video and they sent it out to all the clubs and United were the first to respond.”
In the footage, Davis is less than 4ft tall and he’s seen dancing around the opposition. Davis’ ball control was exceptional for someone his age and he was recorded doing jumps, Cruyff turns and Maradona turns, which caused excitement.
The DVD worked and United offered to bring Davis to the club. A United spokesperson said at the time: “We welcome around 40 boys of this age each year to the Academy. Rhain is British and lived here for the first four years of his life before moving to Australia.
“We regularly receive videos and DVDs of youngsters showing off their skills, but rarely are they of the quality we need. He will be training with us after school and on weekends.” Davis moved in with her father first, and her mother and two brothers soon followed.
Davis had become an internet sensation and he was being compared to Rooney almost overnight. The media attention and interest had the potential to become a dangerous distraction, but he credits his parents with the crucial role of protecting him.
“To be honest it was a bit of a whirlwind for me, I think I was naive with the whole thing,” Davis recalled. “I never spoke to anyone directly, it was my mum and dad who sorted things out. They did a really good job of protecting me in that regard and taking the pressure off.
“They tried to say we weren’t going to move because of me and it was something they wanted to do. It took the pressure off me and helped me a lot. It was a process pretty quick. Within weeks I had left Australia and signed for United.
“It coincided with my dad having family here and it was a pretty easy move – I never looked back.”
Davis had gone from kicking a ball around with his friends in Brisbane to mixing it up with United’s first-team stars. “It was emphatic, everything was new and it was so exciting,” Davis said. “United were and arguably still are the biggest club in the world.
“Derek Langley, who was the scout who brought me in, showed me around the training ground and we came across [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Ryan] Giggsy and Rooney on day one. It was an eye opener for a little boy from Australia, it was just breathtaking.”
Davis also had meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson. “He’s like a mythical figure that you hear about in all the stories, the hair dryers and the Beckham kick and things like that,” Davis laughed as he recalled meeting Ferguson for the first time.
“I feel like when I had the chance to meet him he was so humble, but the respect and the aura that he carries, you definitely wouldn’t come across him. He was always great with us , the kids in the academy, and he tried to do his best for us educationally.
“He really emphasized education, trying to stay away from social media and staying away from distractions. It was quite separate from the professionals and the academy, we got pulled into a different building, but when you met someone, it was pretty cool.”
Davis was progressing well in the academy and he was playing with future first-team stars. ” Mark [Rashford] was my age, I went from U9 to U16 with him, he’s a top guy”, he recalls. “I also played with Axel Tuanzebe and Sam Smith, who plays in the leagues.
“Scotty McTominay and Dean Henderson were both above me in the year, then obviously you had Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Ravel Morrison, Ryan Tunnicliffe and that lot a few years above us. Marcus was probably the outstanding of my year.”
Davis had the opportunity to play in a tournament in Italy with United. He remembers being ‘hammered’ by Arsenal and AC Milan and remembers Rashford scoring a consolation penalty against the latter. He was living the dream of his childhood.
Sadly, Davis’ United dream finally came to an end after he broke his leg aged 14. “It was the second-to-last year before the scholarship year where I broke my leg,” Davis explained. “I’m not going to pin my release on that because I might not have gotten a contract without this injury anyway, but it sets you back and means you’re not in the showcase of the year. that everyone is watching.
“It bothered me, but I can’t dwell on it too much. It just means that I didn’t get any playing time until the last year and things kind of slowed down.” Davis was released from United and his parents were keen for him to focus on his education.
“My parents were always strict with my upbringing and that’s something United have shaped us with as well,” Davis said. “Dave Bushell, who was the head of the academy, basically made sure we all behaved in school and turned in our homework.
“I just fell into my A-Levels, doing Business, Economics and English Language. I was 16 and I only knew football. I’ve always been quite capable in school. Football took a long time, so I didn’t really excel at anything academically, but I was always a grafter.”
Davis used this mentality while playing for Altrincham while studying his A-Levels. “I think it transcends football. The life lesson was this: you will reap the rewards of the graft you put into it. I then went to the University of Sheffield after my A-Levels.
“I studied economics and business, which was another three years of transplant.” However, Davis’ three years at Sheffield were cut short by an opportunity to get back into the game he simply couldn’t turn down – he had been offered a chance to relaunch his career.
Rene Meulensteen, Ferguson’s former assistant and family friend, had been appointed assistant manager of the Australian national team.
Meulensteen was aware of Davis’ story and he reached out. “ During my second year of university, I was always quite close to Melle, who is René’s youngest, and I was on vacation when René contacted me and asked me what I was doing” , Davis said.
“He asked me if I wanted to come to Australia and he offered to take me to the A-League and take me to an Australian U23 camp to see how I found it. We did eight weeks I think and went outside with my dad.
“It was going well and the Central Coast Mariners offered me a deal. I came home for Christmas and basically waited for my offer next to the letterbox. That’s when Mike Phelan, who was athletic director from the club, left to join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United.
“Mike Mulvey was then sacked. I had lost all the contacts I had at the club and I had lost the verbal offer. That’s probably the hardest thing to accept in football. When you’re 15 and 16 you can kind of bounce back, but when you’re 21 it was almost like the last chance.”
Davis graduated with first-class honors from college after this disappointment. He is now back in Cheshire, where he has settled with his longtime partner, and he is working on his ACA Chartered Accountant exams at Grant Thornton.
He still retains a love for the game and he now plays for West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC, who won promotion last season.
Davis admitted that while his story is obviously a part of him, it’s not something he’s now looking to ‘milk’, although he laughed as he revealed his friends sometimes like to embarrass him with the video. YouTube when they meet new people on social occasions.
“It was a lot,” Davis said when asked to sum up his journey. “I wouldn’t change the world for that, but at the age that I am now at 24, I look back and I think it was demanding not only for me but also for my parents, my brothers.
“It was five times a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it takes a lot of your time and there are a lot of sacrifices. It might not have resulted in a football career, but it gave me so much joy. advance in what I want to do.
“It was tough, it was competitive and there were times on a Friday night when you were mad that your friends were out, you were having a good time and you were in bed at 8:30 p.m., but that was a good time. special and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Davis is at peace with his story and he found happiness elsewhere – he succeeded after all.
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