Watching Marco Bustos juggle a soccer ball with his feet is as pleasing to the eye as is looking at a Michelangelo fresco.
At the age of 12, Marco was the youngest player ever named to Soccer Canada's National Training Centre program. Now 14, he's ready to take his next step up the ladder.
On Nov. 24, he and his father/coach Alex Bustos will leave for Liverpool, England, where the youngster has been invited for a 10-day tryout with the English Premier League team's academy (developmental) squad.
"Unfortunately, if you excel in soccer in Winnipeg or Canada, but want to move up to the next level, you have to go somewhere else," said Alex. "The programs here are not good enough. The coaching, the leagues, they just won't take you to the next level. You have to be able to train in a soccer-environment country on a daily basis."
Currently, the younger Bustos is playing on a men's (18-and-older) team from Bustos Academy. "We play in two men's divisions," said Alex Bustos.
"It helps to improve my game mentally," added Marco. "I have to be quicker, and I can't take too many touches on the ball. I also have to be more physical."
The prospect of leaving Winnipeg to carve a niche for himself in one of the world's greatest soccer cities doesn't seem to worry Marco.
"I wouldn't say I am intimidated, but I would say I'm a bit nervous. I'm handling it pretty good."
In order to get a foot in the door, Alex called on Peter Corcoran Sr., an old friend and soccer scout, who has ties with Liverpool FC that go way back.
"He made some phone calls there, and they asked for a video," said Alex. "They liked what they saw and from that we got an invitation to go to the their under-16 academy."
"We made a video of him playing in a high school game, and I was impressed, so I sent a copy to John McMahon (Liverpool coach)," said Corcoran.
Corcoran, who has coached here and in Europe at various levels, says Bustos is "miles" ahead of other 14-year-old kids. I'm impressed by his foresight and pace, as well as how he can read the game."
Alex said that should the Premier Division opportunity not pan out, plan B is to show him to the Division 1 Tranmere Rovers.
"We want to have other options while we are over there," he said.
For Marco to get this invitation is unusual in another way, says his father.
"For them to take an international kid at this time of the season, it has to be something special. They haven't seen him play live, but they'll put him right in with the under-16 team that they already have. Usually they have open tryouts in the summer, but right now they are 15 games into the season, so at this time of the year they don't look at kids unless they are invited."
Fans can get a look at Bustos in action Sunday when Winnipeg Alliance SC will take on Bustos Academy in an exhibition game. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at the Seven Oaks Soccer Complex. Tickets are $5 apiece, with proceeds going to the Bustos' travel costs.