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Mohammed Salisu: From Accra to Ronaldo's Real Valladolid to... Man Utd?

Mohammed Salisu. From the dusty pitches of Accra to Old Trafford and running around in a Manchester United shirt? And all inside three years? For those close to the 20 year-old Ghanaian, such a prospect is no pipe dream...

Last month, Salisu marked two years since joining Real Valladolid after a tip-off from his local coach. And if ever the word meteoric was to describe a career, it would be his.

Today, with 18 months of first team football under his belt, Salisu is fast becoming a global name thanks to his performances in Valladolid's shirt - and the interest he's attracting. This season those whom manage the Estadio José Zorrilla have confirmed organising tickets for representatives of Everton, Newcastle United, Southampton, Norwich City, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg and Mainz 05. Some have had scouts present for one game, others for multiples. But another club, Manchester United no less, have had official representation at the Zorrilla for much of this season. And for sources in and around Valladolid, there's no doubt, it is Salisu they're coming to watch.

Standing at 1.91m and boasting great acceleration and agility, you can understand Salisu catching the eye of outside interests. But if United, or any of their English rivals, were to move for the 20 year-old - it would strictly be as a project player. One for the future. Even his most loyal supporters admit he's a work in progress.

Kiko Olivas, who acts as a mentor for Salisu, can recognise the raw talent in his central defensive partner. But at 11 years his senior, Kiko also admits his young teammate still has much to learn.

"He could improve tactically. He still lacks things but it's normal. You have to gain experience and know, above all, what is the best movement at every moment," reasoned Kiko, before being quick to add: "Even so, he is playing incredible games and has things quite controlled."

Which is part of the package. Calm, controlled and down-to-earth. Salisu's humility has helped his rapid rise. In a new country, with a new language and culture, Salisu admits his game had to be broken down and built up to meet the demands of Spanish football.

“In Ghana we play more like in England, but in Spain they play tiki taka, good football. In Ghana we hit and run, hit and go and play aggressive," says the stopper.

But despite the need to adjust, Salisu's willingness to listen and learn saw him rapidly progress.

Valladolid great Victor Fernandez, who now coaches the club's Juvenil A team, was the first of the staff to get their hands on Salisu. He recalled: "(When I first saw him) it seemed that many things were tactically lacking, but he understood the game easily and very quickly, despite the language.

"Upon arrival, with two training sessions of mine, I saw that it marked a difference. The physique he had, also the inner and outer determination were incredible. Everything that is now happening for him, I imagined would happen."

It was a conversation with the innovative Spanish coach Fran Castano which led to Victor snapping up Salisu. Castano left Europe several years ago to establish his African Talent Football Academy in Accra. And among the young players to first come through the system was Salisu.

Victor recalled: "Fran told me that he had a central defender of a good level and suggested him to me. He told me that he was going to bring him to me for a week or two and that if I liked him I could sign him. Afterwards, I told Alberto Marcos [academy coordinator] that I had to sign him immediately."

The fee? With all the current hype, Valladolid sporting director Miguel Ángel Gómez was happy to boast just last week: "I was at the African academy and we bought him for €50,000. Many teams and foreign clubs come to see him every weekend. He is pure talent."

Tellingly, Gomez adds: "In addition to genetics, he has a high capacity to learn. No wonder so much is moving around him."

Indeed, with so much "moving around him", there's now a scramble inside Valladolid to upgrade Salisu's contract: something which his agent offered to do over the summer, only to be told to wait by management.

But today, with the power shifting, Juan Mata Snr (yes, the father of United midfielder Juan Mata), isn't so open to discussing new terms. With a buyout clause of €12m - and the interest blazing across Europe - Mata Snr can effectively shop around for the best deal.

But that's not to say it won't all end with Salisu doing right by Valladolid and signing new terms - also with his agent's approval. Mata Snr is close to Ronaldo Nazario, Valladolid's superstar owner. The pair are partners in a multi-million dollar property venture and there's little chance of either man wanting to rock the boat.

In Salisu's case, he remains loyal to Valladolid, grateful for the stage the club has given him: "I am very happy to be part of the first team. Life has changed for me fast.

"Although it sounded like I could go out on-loan in the summer, I am delighted to be part of the first team and I am grateful to the club for the opportunity it has given me."

So take a 10 million quid gamble and move now? Or leave the lad be and let him develop where he is - before returning with a bigger offer? That's the discussions now being held inside United - and clubs across Europe.

We'll give Castano, back in Accra, the last word. For him, there's no doubt. Given the right coaching. In the right environment. Mohammed Salisu can be a world-beater.

"I think he will become one of the best central defenders of African football," says Castano, "and if everything goes well he could play in one of the 10 best teams in the world."

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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