From Mosborough to Major League Soccer - The rise of former Sheffield United Academy kid Danny Deakin
His remarkable journey from Mosborough to Major League Soccer was sealed when he was drafted by Orlando City earlier this month, although the method wasn't as straightforward as Danny Deakin would have liked.
“It’s a fairly confusing system, and I’m no expert,” he smiled.
“There was a stream of the draft on the MLS website and I was trying to pick it up, but I was having massive internet problems so gave up on it. Then I looked down at my phone and it started going mad with notifications. All I could see was Orlando. My dad was gobsmacked... it was a great feeling.”
The Sheffielder was Orlando’s only pick of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, and will line up for the Lions alongside the likes of former Barnsley loanee Brek Shea and Jonathan Spector, formerly of Manchester United and West Ham.
For good measure, Orlando also have Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite. Better known as Kaka.
Deakin had just signed with Sheffield United’s Academy when Kaka won the Ballon d’Or and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2007.
“What a player,” Deakin, now 23, added.
“It’s unbelievable really; I grew up watching him at AC Milan, and he was the best player in the world not so long ago. It’ll be a bit surreal to run around, kicking a ball next to him and I can’t think of many better players to learn from. He still bosses it in the MLS; year in, year out.”
Like so many others, Deakin’s journey began with the heartbreak of being released from a professional club in England. Growing up playing for Handsworth Boys, he was first spotted by Sheffield Wednesday and spent two years there before dropping out.
Then, United came calling for Deakin, who calls himself a “massive Blades fan”. He progressed through the ranks, alongside Harry Maguire, and signed as a second-year scholar before, at the age of 18, his Bramall Lane career was over.
“We had some really good players around that age group [United reached the final of the 2011 FA Youth Cup] and I struggled to get into the team,” Deakin remembers.
“In my second year, I was able to establish myself a lot better but it’s always hard to secure a professional deal at such a young age and, looking back, I probably wasn’t ready for professional football.
“There wasn’t much to them releasing me, really; it was just an end-of-season meeting where you find out if you’re being kept on or not. I had a trial with Notts County afterwards that came to nothing, and had spells at Matlock and Belper in non-league, but my confidence was at an all-time low and I was thinking about packing in football altogether.”
The turning point was a call from good friend Oliver Gage, a fellow Blade and head of performance analysis and technical recruitment for fellow MLS side Houston Dynamo.
“Olly had been out in the US on a university scholarship and said he could help me get out there,” Deakin added. “I was a bit sceptical at first, but thought ‘why not give it a shot and see how it goes?’
“Four years later, I graduated from the University of South Carolina with the equivalent of a first-class degree in criminology and criminal justice but the appeal was playing football every day.
“I also got to work with strength and conditioning coaches every day. It was good to be able to further my education in case football didn’t work out, but to play at a high level and develop my game was great. It’s so much harder to get better if you’re only training twice a week and playing on Saturdays, which is what I was doing in non-league back in England.
“Studying and playing wasn’t easy, but you have a lot of time to crack on and study because it’s not like I had to maintain a job at the same time. I guess my job was playing football for the university, and some games we’d get six or seven thousand fans watching us if we went to play a bigger school.”
Deakin thrived on the pressure, registering seven goals and six assists in 20 games for South Carolina, and was named in the league’s all-star team for the second season in succession - putting him on the radar of several MLS teams.
“I managed to sign with an agency called Octagon, and they - along with my coaches at South Carolina - put in a lot of work to get my name out there. Before I came home for Christmas, I travelled around the country and trained with a couple of teams - Columbus Crew and Toronto FC - before the draft. I had no idea that Orlando was even a possibility.”
Until his phone started buzzing.
“I just want to get over there now and impress,” Deakin - described by Lions general manager Niki Budalic as an “important asset with attacking capabilities, vision and passing ability” - added.
“Just take it step-by-step, keep developing and learning. The college soccer game is completely different - players can sub in and out in the second half - so the intensity is always high, and everyone seemed to be really athletic.
“I know that the next level will be even faster and everyone will be technically solid on the ball. But I think that is a major part of my game, so I’m looking forward to the test and seeing where it takes me. Back to England? Who knows. I could never rule that out. Especially if the mighty Blades came calling.”