'The American Messi' is about to sign for Manchester City. (image: @cavan.sull)

The 14-year-old ‘American Messi’ is Manchester-bound & we should all be terrified

It’s happened again. A 14-year-old has been labelled the [insert nationality here] Messi. More often than not, that’s a nail in the coffin of the career of an aspiring world-beater. This time, though, things might be a little different…

Cavan Sullivan is on the wish list of Europe’s biggest boys. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund have all been watching the teenager’s every move on a football pitch since he scored a brace for USA under-15s against England, but Manchester City have reportedly convinced the youngster to join them… in four years’ time.

Bayern and Dortmund will be particularly upset by the news, as Sullivan has a German passport as well as an American one, making bureaucracy all the easier for the German sides. So it goes.

Cavan has chosen the path of the wonderkid, as opposed to the wunderkind.

However, because Manchester is in England, and England is in the UK, and the UK is no longer part of the European Union, City can’t actually sign young Cavan until he’s 18. Technically.

If the youngster continues on his current trajectory of development, he could be sent to Palermo in Italy, or Girona in Spain to gain more experience and assimilate to European football before he makes the switch to City.

And considering just how much promise the freakish teenage midfield prospect has already shown, we wouldn’t find it all too surprising if he soon spawns into Europe, starts zapping defenders’ ankles and suddenly resembles one of those uber-press-resistant City players that make football look way easier than it is.

We’re not jealous. Promise.

The kid’s ability is unquestionable.

His dribbling and awareness are ridiculous, and his weight of pass is sublime. In the compilation above, you can see him playing those Alexander-Arnold-esque volleyed passes with just the right amount of fade and backspin on them, yet he has close control and selflessness reminiscent of Andres Iniesta.

He knows where the goal is, too. Actually, come to think of it, Cavan reminds us of Phil Foden. Left-footed attackers with similar strengths and weaknesses.

There is another former Philadelphia Union player who grew up with comparisons to one of the all-time greats looming over him, clawing at his brain for his entire career. In fact, the frenzy around this young phenomenon started at around the same age, all well before Cavan Sullivan was born. If you were playing football manager twenty years ago, you knew all about him…

Freddy Adu.

The next Pele.

Now, the internet was still relatively primitive when Adu was being hyped up, and nobody who was talking about him had seen him play. It wasn’t possible. We were still buying polyphonic ringtones that sounded a bit like Sweet Child o’ Mine for 50p, and YouTube was still a year or two away. That meant a word-of-mouth phenom like Freddy Adu was whatever you wanted him to be. A footballing messiah coming to show us the way.

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Turns out Adu was no the messiah, and only managed 33 goals for club and country in his entire career. That’s about a thousand behind Pele (if you believe the stories).

But Sullivan was born into a very different world — a world in which anonymity is scarce, and proclamations of messiahs can be fact-checked in seconds.

In the year 2024 you can type a few words into a search bar and watch Sullivan nutmegging unsuspecting 17-year-olds at your leisure. Scouting networks have evolved far beyond the days of Ali Dia pretending to be George Weah’s cousin and hoodwinking his way into the Premier League. Important people are watching Cavan, and important people are making bold statements.

“He has the ability and talent to become, I’ll just say, a household name.” Said Jim Curtain, head coach of Philadelphia Union. Sullivan was 13 years old when Curtain said those words, and it’s clear that Mr. Curtain was holding back.

ESPN analyst (and former USMNT international) Taylor Twellman reckons that City’s scouts told him Sullivan is — quote: “The best 14-year-old in the world.”

City’s scouts recommended Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Jadon Sancho, Michael Olise, and Brahim Diaz, so they’ve got previous with recognising talented youngsters.

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One of the most USA footballers of the modern era.

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Usually, when a player whips up a frenzy of hype at such a young age, the media storm blows itself out and the player disappears into mediocrity. There are exceptions, of course — Martin Odegaard being a prime example. But the path to greatness is neatly laid out before Cavan Sullivan, now, and it’s up to him whether or not he takes it.

Cavan’s older brother Quinn has recently broken into the Union senior side, aged 20, which can only help the 14-year-old further his development back home. If Manchester City and Philadelphia Union decide the time is right, he can test his ability at Palermo of Girona, where he’ll be motivated to make as big an impact as possible. Then, Manchester and, potentially, history awaits.

Sullivan is literally a child and you’d hope he’s allowed to be a child whilst he continues his development. The seeds of hope have been planted in Manchester City heads and, now, they’re just going to have let them grow and check back in four years.

Give it a decade or two, and ask an American hardcore soccer fan about the first time they witnessed a true diamond in the rough. We reckon you’ll get the same answer over and over:

It’s always Sully in Philadelphia.

By Andrew Martin