Now immersed in the professional world at Fulham in the English Premier League, Devan Tanton found his love for soccer very much by accident.
Driving through Orlando, Florida, when he was just eight years old, Tanton's mother passed a sign for the FC Elite soccer academy and decided to sign up her sons.
While his brother quickly lost interest, Tanton uncovered a dormant passion for a sport with which his main interaction to that point had been watching highlights of Lionel Messi on YouTube.
"It started with that, it was just a coincidence because, in the US, soccer is starting to get more popular but it wasn't very popular [back then]," Tanton recalled in an exclusive interview with 90min.
"I had really grown to start watching highlights on YouTube of Messi. I think I'd remembered every goal that he had done. I was super obsessed with watching him play. I had stickers on my wall and everything. I was just obsessed. My brother let it go within a few months, but I think I found a passion for it."
A year later, after being spotted by coaches during a Barcelona Academy camp in Flordia, Tanton was in Spain, joining third-tier team UE Cornellà.
"The football culture in Spain, especially Barcelona, is just insane. It's just a metropolis for the love of the game," Tanton responded when asked about the immediate difference between the United States and Spain. "Football's the main sport, by a mile. Just being around that was heaven for me."
Originally playing both central midfield and on the wing, Tanton quickly caught the eye in Spain due to his speed and crossing ability. The youngster began training as a full-back; the position he now calls home at 18 years old.
"You could see that Devan had potential for the future, I watched a lot of his games," UE Cornellà director of football Andres Manzano told 90min.
"He's a really quick player, but his technique was also good. Devan is also a very good team player, always with the desire to learn. That is really important when they're young. He really wanted to be a professional player and we help them to continue on this path, to inspire.
"We work with him in relation to his technique and passing game, which is important in Spain. Then, when you have his physical conditions in terms of speed and fitness. You put these together then it's easy to find a good player, if he has the desire. In my opinion, Devan has the desire."
Should Tanton go on to have the career Manzano predicts, he'll join a Cornellà alumni to have enjoyed successful periods at the top of the game that includes Jordi Alba, Keita Balde, and David Raya.
"I'm sure that Devan will have the capability to play with the national team," Manzano predicts. "For him, it will be easier to arrive at the Premier League level than, for example, the Championship. He's a player that has pure technique. I think his potential could be Premier League."
Tanton left Spain to join Fulham just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Just like the start of his journey in soccer, this move required a little bit of chance fortune, with the teenager being spotted by scouts while playing in a US Youth National Team match against England at St. George's Park.
"I was extremely grateful to have that opportunity. It was a bit of a no-brainer," Tanton recalled of his decision-making process to join Fulham.
Even so, it took some adjustment for Tanton. Having previously lived with his mother and sister in Spain, his family departed back to the United States, leaving Tanton to deal with life in a new country alone - a situation exacerbated by the pandemic.
"Yeah, it definitely took a period of adaptation," he said. "Moving to a different country during Covid times, I wasn't able to go out at all. I was just stuck in a host family room. The first few months were definitely difficult for me to be able to perform and just feel good."
Luckily, Tanton was housed with a host family alongside fellow American youngster Alex Borto, whose kinship helped at a time when it would have been easy to become isolated.
Next on the list was adjusting to the rigors of the English game. Though he insists the technical differences between Fulham and Cornellà were minimal, Tanton was caught out by the increased physically in England.
"When I got to Fulham, the quality was really top notch. All of the players, even the ones that were big and could bully everyone around, even then they had tremendous quality," the teenager said.
He added: "It was just physically, I was kind of bullied around the first few months. English football is definitely more end to end, so you really to run so much, and be powerful, especially as a full-back."
With that adjustment period to English football now complete, Tanton has his eyes firmly set on the future. At club level, he'll spend next season with Fulham's Under-23 team and dreams one day of being a Premier League regular - a status enjoyed at Craven Cottage by fellow Americans Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream.
And at international level, Tanton is still working out whether to represent Colombia or the United States - though he's been capped across various youth levels for the latter. Either way, senior caps for his country would be enough for him to know he's achieved his goals.
"My dream has always been to be a professional footballer, which technically I am, but for me, I classify that as playing first-team football, in a league like the Premier League. That's obviously every kid's dream, no matter how far-fetched it is," said Tanton.
"And obviously making my senior team debut with my national team, that would be the best for me. That would be a kind of a signal that I've done what I've set out to do."
Source : 90min