Teen footballer dreams of playing for Jamaica
Liam takes a strike during a football match.

Thirteen-year-old Liam Poulin's football skills have already earned him a sponsorship deal with Adidas. Now he is looking forward to showcasing his skills at an upcoming Under-14 match in France, April 7-10.

The eighth-grader's mother is Kingston native Shelly-Ann James. His father Didier Poulin, though French, shares Liam's dream that the youngster will one day play for Jamaica.

"I would like to win some trophies with Jamaica one day… I know many of the Jamaican players who now play in international leagues. I will be happy to wear the black, green, and gold jersey," Liam told the Jamaica Observer during an online interview.

His love affair with sports began at age five. He tried many others before deciding to focus on football. He has ramped up training from twice a week to daily.

Liam, at six years old, taking a strike at his mother's family home in Kingston.

"At home, I always had a ball at my feet. I walked through the house while dribbling a ball to do everything: while brushing my teeth, while taking my plate to the kitchen after eating. What I've always loved about playing football is the contact with the ball, the sound it makes each time I kick the ball, especially barefoot. Of course, I also love to dribble and score goals," said Liam.

The versatile eighth-grader who attends the Cleunay Middle School in Rennes, France, plays several positions — midfield, right back, right and left winger — but prefers to be a midfielder. He first caught the eye of a recruiter while playing a game at summer camp. A few months later, the recruiter had a chance to get another look at him during a tournament after his dad convinced the coach to let him fill in when a team was short one player.

"The same recruiter who had spotted me months earlier was present. Even though I had never played before with this team, we won the tournament and I ended up scoring the most goals," Liam recalled.

His prowess on the field resulted in him being officially recruited. He was nine years old.

Liam in training with his clubmates.

"I was invited by the recruiter to train with his club's Under-10 training session. Not long after, I was officially recruited, and I have been with the club ever since. I'd say that being part of that winning team [at the tournament] was definitely my first milestone moment," he noted.

Another defining moment for Liam was at the beginning of a Europa League match, where he was among youth players selected to serve as an escort for the Stade Rennais Football Club's adult team.

"I escorted [Mozambique's] Edson Sitoe to the pitch. Normally, we're not supposed to talk to the players, but I quickly told him that I was counting on him to play well. He smiled. Days later, he was kind enough to meet and chat with me. He gave me good advice. I'll always be grateful," Liam said, smiling at the memory.

He was also excited to have an encounter with one of his favourite football icons, Raheem Sterling. He spoke with him briefly via Facetime.

Liam (seated, centre) signing his contract with the Stade Rennais Football Club. From left is his father Didier Poulin, his mother Shelly-Ann James. Standing is his sister Savannah Poulin.

"Also an unforgettable moment. I like Sterling simply because of his speed with and without the ball, his explosivity, and how he dribbles," he said.

Cristiano Ronaldo is also one of his heroes. He is impressed by his mental strength and his self-confidence.

"Of course I love his technical skills, which he makes seem so easy and natural. The whole team is needed to win a match, but Cristiano helps to make all the difference for a team to win," said Liam.

The teenager is also proud of his own accomplishments so far, especially his collaboration with Adidas. He was signed in 2022 on his birthday, April 23.

Liam poses with the logo of his sponsor, Adidas.

"When I first signed with Adidas, I was excited but truly I didn't know exactly what signing with a sponsor really meant. It was only after attending the Adidas workshops and spending a weekend meeting and playing football with other Adidas players that I realised it's much more than just clothes and shoes but more so like being part of the Adidas team, which has been looking out for me even from before I signed with them. I feel very grateful and will continue to work hard to deserve their sponsorship," he said.

He is well aware of the responsibility that comes with the Adidas deal and he is prepared to put in the work. He will continue to rely heavily on his coaches and he is grateful to all who have played a role in his life so far.

"Each coach that I've had has helped me to develop as a player. They've all equally taught me something new on and off the pitch; they've all helped to make me a better apprentice player. The better I am, the more confident I am," he said.

"Outside of the five training days with my club, I also train separately with coach Phani Mampasi. He has helped me a lot in my development. During the school vacations, I also train with Cedric Hanyurwimana, a close friend of my dad, who has taken me under his wing to guide and teach me a lot about football. In between all this, when my homework and revision have been done and I have a free moment, my dad will take me running or to do plyometrics to work on my speed and endurance," he explained.

Balancing football and academics can be challenging but his school helps to lighten the pressure by allowing him a certain degree of flexibility in his schedule.

He is convinced that football helps him to be organised, disciplined, and mentally strong. It also helps to have supportive parents.

"My mum enrolled me in football when I was five and came to my matches. My dad comes to all my matches and training sessions even if it's cold or raining," he highlighted.

Liam hopes to do well in the upcoming tournament, the Tournoi Sans Frontière. Participants will include elite French and international clubs and he knows it is a stepping stone to going pro.

"I see myself as a future professional football player. I know that the journey is only just beginning, that I have a lot to learn and still a long way to go; but it's my dream. So, it's all worth it. I plan to continue being motivated, to get better and stronger as a player, do well in school and stay humble. Then, I think good things will happen for me in the future," he said.

BY ONEIL MADDEN Observer writer

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