‘I feel like I was born to do this’; 12-year-old London, Ont. soccer star signs with historic club in Portugal

Diago Delgado is getting set to make his football debut in Portugal.

The 12-year-old from London, Ont. recently signed with C.F. Os Beleneses youth academy and will step onto the pitch Sunday for his game debut against the SL Benefica’s U13 team.

“I’m so excited, my dad’s going to record it and I think I’m going to do good,” says Delgado, via Zoom from Lisbon, Portugal.

It’s been a long road for the young soccer star, who started playing for youth teams in London before the pandemic. Over the past two-plus years, he’s been strictly training with former international player Kevin Deserpa in Kitchener, Ont.

“He came out of nowhere,” says Deserpa, who played professionally in multiple countries before retiring a decade ago and starting his own soccer academy.

“When he came to me the plan was to see how good he can be with me. He had the right skills, so I sent the information to my partners in Portugal, and they arranged a try out for Diago.”

Deserpa says his role is to find players, and with his connections, give them opportunities.

“I want to get them to Portugal or Spain or Italy, China, wherever they want,” says Deserpa.

“I want to get kids to the next level of professional soccer if they want to go to university, that’s perfect too, but I want to get them to professional academies.”

Delgado’s skill set is impressive if you watch him train on his Instagram page.

“We did a lot of physical and technical training, and working on how to play the game properly with my brain,” says Delgado.

“We also did diets, so what to eat at the right time when to eat it and then I came here for some training sessions and I was lucky enough to stay and sign for Belenenses.”

Delgado spent three months in Portugal training with Belenenses before returning home at Christmas. He’s back overseas now ready to play his first game.

“I came here to train with a few teams, and they said they liked me and wanted me to stay,” says Delgado. “We put all the papers through, and they went through and then I finally signed and it felt amazing.”

Diago is only 12 years old, so the Delgado family has moved to Portugal.

“There’s been a lot of paperwork and his parents are moving there,” says Deserpa.

“It’s different than just sending your 16-year-old or 18-year-old where he can manage himself. They have to put him in school and are doing all the extra things that could be complicated, but I have to congratulate the parents for going all out and making it happen.”

Delgado is a striker who plays both wings, and even can suit up in centre-midfield. He thinks his best skills are ball handling, dribbling and knowing what to do at the precise time.

London, Ont. soccer phenom Diago Delgado with Cristiano Ronaldo in February 2020. (Source: Diago Delgado / Instagram)

He idolizes stars like Neymar Jr, Lionel Messi and even got to meet his idol Cristiano Ronaldo.

“It was amazing, he is a very nice person,” says Delgado. “I just asked him, how he got there, what he did to do it. He said, ‘All it takes is work ethic, dedication, talent and brains, but mostly working and dedication.'”

Delgado is excited about his future, saying he believes he was “born to do this.”

“With my friends and my family saying ‘You can do this’ and ‘This what you’re meant to do,’ it just feels great,” says Delgado.

“I feel like I’m going to be one of the best players, and I hope I’m one of the best players. This weekend I want to be the best player on the field, and I need to show myself showcase my talent.”

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