By Ken McEwan
Ask any soccer-mad youngster across the world his ambition and the majority would surely reply: ‘sign for Barcelona.’
Eastbourne’s talented Ethan Stapley has done just that, receiving the perfect gift on the eve of his ninth birthday.
The confirmation from Nou Camp that Ethan had passed all the Barcelona tests with flying colours meant he had been accepted into the Spanish club’s School of Excellence Academy.
Ethan, who first featured on the Herald Sport pages as a mere 17-month-old toddler, displayed a special love for football from the moment he could walk.
After his fifth birthday he joined Eastbourne Town under the watchful eye of Dave Piercy.
He went on to join the All-Stars Academy before being snapped up by Eastbourne Borough.
A the age of six he started a two-year spell with Brighton & Hove Albion’s Elite Centre at Lancing where he became a prominent member of the squad.
In May of last year his family decided to move to Spain and there he played for Tossa de Club and Girona where he caught the eye of Barcelona scouts and was offered a trial.
In November he returned for a fortnight’s holiday, training with Eastbourne Borough and playing in a specially arranged match after which he vowed to return to Eastbourne next time as a Barcelona player.
After three trials with the Spanish giants came the perfect prize – to sign on the dotted line for one of the world’s top clubs.
Ethan’s cousin Sebastian Coris who played for Girona in La Liga said, “I never made it through the Barcelona trials but I still became a professional footballer. For Ethan, the sky is the limit.”
Grandad Soroosh Simaei added, “Ethan has shown so much passion for the game from an early age and he always dreamed of following in the footsteps of his hero Messi.
“With his desire, determination and talent who knows what he might achieve?
“I have always believed in him and although it broke my heart when he moved to Spain I knew it was his destiny.
“He is a dream grandson and still loves his home town of Eastbourne.
“He makes me so proud that one day we can all say he is one of our own.”