Granted it’s one unsourced story in one British tabloid. But this is how it starts. A player’s name is mentioned along with some big, famous clubs to which he’s “linked”. People begin paying more attention, rumor becomes real and the hype machine starts to rev. Whether or not there’s any truth to the original report, the player’s stature inevitably increases.
Of course, a stunning hat trick in front of nearly 40,000 fans provides a bit of fuel as well.
A few hours after Vancouver Whitecaps forward Kekuta Manneh, an 18-year-old from Gambia, destroyed the Seattle Sounders with three goals in 43 minutes, the Daily Star was printing his name in the same paragraph as that of Chelsea and Arsenal.
The Premier League powers “could swoop” for the “teen sensation”, according to the Star, which ranks sixth in circulation in the U.K. Liverpool was mentioned as a possibility as well.
Manneh came to the U.S. at 15 and stayed with a host family in Texas that eventually adopted him. He starred for the Austin Aztex in the USL Premier Development League and was selected fourth overall by Vancouver in last January’s MLS draft. He’s played in 18 MLS games this year, but Wednesday night’s Cascadia Cup tilt in Seattle was just his fourth start.
Manneh notched his first goal of the evening, and third this year, in the 12th minute. He doubled Vancouver’s advantage in the 42nd and finished off the historic hat trick – he’s the youngest in MLS history to accomplish the feat – in the 54th. All three goals required speed of foot, speed of thought, composure in the penalty area and the ability to read the development of a play. It was the sort of performance that whets a tabloid’s appetite.
“The thing is, I'm more nervous in this interview than the game,” Manneh told reporters in Seattle after match. “This is the type of games every player wants to play in. These are the games we dream to play, in front of this crowd. All you can do is get excited and play the game.”
In 2010, Manneh earned a one-week training stint with Chelsea’s youth academy after an outstanding performance at a Disney showcase tournament in Florida. He was scouted by Arsenal the following year, and The Vancouver Sun reported in January that Manneh trained with Liverpool, which was “linked with a switch for him over the summer,” according to the Star.
He’s making $84,500 this season, according to the MLS Players Union. Let the speculation over his raise begin. “The hitman is regarded as one of the most exciting prospects to enter the MLS,” the Star wrote. That’s one thing the tabloid surely did get right.