A Vernon teen’s skills in both soccer and social media have landed him multiple stints at professional team youth academies in the Netherlands, a move that bodes well for his prospects of making it at the pro level.
When he’s not practicing in his backyard, 13-year-old Lee Robinson can often be found training diligently at the DND fields or on the turf at Okanagan College.
The Thompson Okanagan Football Club (TOFC) talent can also be found on Instagram, where he uploads clips to nearly 5,000 followers of skillful juggling, deft cone-weaving and lightning-fast footwork through agility ladders — drills he picked up from watching videos of Eddie Johnson, a former English Premier League (EPL) and U.S. national team player who now runs a soccer academy in Florida.
As Robinson’s father Todd explains, it was a repost of one of his son’s videos by Johnson that caught the attention of a scout for a major EPL team, who then reached out to Robinson with an opportunity.
“It’s basically his soccer channel,” Todd said of his son’s Instagram account, adding it’s even earned him free soccer gear from various companies. “He’s like a mini influencer.”
After a year and a half of corresponding with the scout and waiting out COVID-19 hurdles, Robinson made his way to the Netherlands to take part in a far superior training environment than Canadian soccer pathways can offer.
He arrived in Rotterdam at the beginning of August. Training there with a private coach, he was invited to a trial by S.B.V. Excelsior, a club in the second-highest tier of soccer in the Netherlands.
After training with Excelsior’s youth academy for a week and playing in an exhibition game, Lee headed to the northeast of the country for a trial with another second-tier club’s academy, Emmen FC.
“Lee trained in Emmen and was immediately asked to stay after the first practice,” said Todd.
The 8th Grader is on a 90-day visitor visa which will see him stay with Emmen FC until the end of October, and the family is currently working on his immigration status so he can stay longer.
“Our hope is to allow him to develop in the Netherlands, as he is at the perfect age for it and it is where he needs to be to be challenged and develop,” his father said.
Playing in Europe is Robinson’s best chance to one day make it at the pro ranks, and his father says he’s lived up to the higher level of play.
“He’s doing very well there, and he’s standing out. So that was really cool for us to really get a gauge of ‘is he talented enough to play in European soccer,’ and the answer is yes, there’s just no question, and he just loves it.”
Back home, his TOFC coaches and teammates are missing one of their best players, but Todd says they’ve been “extremely supportive of his opportunity.”
To see Robinson in action, check out his Instagram: lee.r7.