Lionel Messi 2011 in Real Madrid

Professional soccer clubs are always on the lookout for young talent to build into the kind of franchise player who can anchor a franchise for a decade or more. FC Barcelona snagged the young Lionel Messi at age 13 from his local Argentine team, and the midfielder has since led Barca to 15 titles, including three Champions League titles. In 2005 the highly-anticipated American midfield talent Freddy Adu made his debut for D.C. United at the age of 14, although he has yet to make the same impact on the American game, and left the club in 2006.

Leave it to fellow Spanish team Real Madrid to go one step further, signing Leonel Angel Coira, a 7-year-old Argentine prodigy known simply as Leo. The team reportedly made the move after Altetico Madrid, the cross-town rival for Real Madrid, expressed interest in Leo.

Madrid spokesman Juan Tapidor told the Associated Press Leo will begin training in the club’s youth academy Sept. 6, when he will meet the rest of the team. Real Madrid also denied claims that this was the youngest player the club had ever signed but declined to give details of younger signings. If Messi’s history is any guide here it will be several years before Leo gets a chance to play first-team soccer for Real Madrid (Messi did not make his debut until he was 16).

The Spanish clubs are a bit slow, though. Dutch soccer club Venlose Voetball Vereniging signed Baerke van der Meij, an 18-month-old child, after a video of the tot bending it like a very tiny Beckham went viral.

Lionel Messi 2011