IN today’s world of multi-million pound transfer deals, where the Premier League is king and internationals from home and abroad dominate every squad, it’s far too easy for young footballers to fall by the wayside.
English football is littered with rising young stars, who promised so much, but for one reason or another just never made the grade.
South Shields striker David Foley was determined not to become another of those statistics, so much so that he left League One side Hartlepool United and jetted off to the other side of the world to follow his dream.
Pools agreed to release Foley, now 23, after he was offered a deal from Puerto Rico Islanders – a side which plays in the second tier of football in America.
It was a big gamble, flying off to a new country hoping to breathe new life into his career, but to Foley none of that mattered.
He explained: “I would have gone anywhere in the world for a chance to show what I was capable of.
“I always had belief in my ability to get goals, I just needed the opportunity to show what I could do. Thankfully, Puerto Rico gave me that chance.”
It was an opportunity which Foley grabbed with both hands, scoring 15 goals in all competitions – including two against David Beckham’s star-studded LA Galaxy – as the side won the USSF Division Two Professional League.
“It was nice to score so many goals, because I didn’t really get as many as I would have liked at Hartlepool United,” he said.
“I don’t think I got a lot of chances there, but always felt that if I was given a good run in the side, I could have done better.”
While every goal scored was equally relished, Foley admits that he enjoyed those against the big boys of Galaxy in the North American Champions League.
“We found out who we were playing, and they were favourites for the whole competition not just against us,” he said.
“We knew they had the likes of David Beckham in their squad, and we knew that it would be a tough game.
“We went up to their place and they possibly underestimated us. They had their full-strength team out, but we battered them 4-1 in Los Angeles.
“I scored the first one in that game, and the team played really well.
“In the second leg in Puerto Rico they had no choice but to come at us. I scored a penalty, which put us 5-1 up on aggregate, and there was no coming back for them after that.”
Foley was determined to hit the ground running with the Islanders, and admits to making sure he settled into his new life as quickly as possible.
“I went out there two weeks early and the local players were already on the island,” he said.
“I met them before any of the other players returned for pre-season training and got pally with them, and I lived with the assistant manager (former West Ham United player Adrian Whitbread) when I first went out there, which helped.
“Later I moved in with two of other lads, and there were nine of us living in the same Condo building, so that made it easier to settle in.”
While life on the island of Puerto Rico is somewhat different from back home in the North East, Foley says there is also a massive difference in the approach to the game.
He said: “Everyone always asks for comparisons – is it as good as it is over here in England? I think it is like a League One set-up, but with a passing style.
“A lot of the players are Mexicans and South Americans, who have been brought up to get the ball down and pass it to feet.
“I think that has helped me to improve as a player. When you train in England it’s usually first team to score stays on, so they just launch the ball forward.
“Over there it was all about 50 passes being a goal, so you have to get the ball down and play.
“The crowds they get are like a League One club, but the atmosphere is something totally different. Our average crowds were about five or six thousand, but for the Champions League games, especially the match with Galaxy, they were full, with a crowd of about 16,000.
“The fans have crackers, flares and vuvuzelas and it sounds more like 100,000.”
After successful first season, Foley is hoping to push on from here.
“I set myself a goal before I went out there to try to get into the MLS Premier League within two years,” he said. “This year I want to do better than last, so in my head I have got to score more than 15 goals. The team also won the league, so we have to be looking to do that again this season.”
Living the American dream has breathed new life into Foley’s football career, but he admits he still hopes of making it back home one day.
“That’s the ambition,” he said. “I would love to play back home in the Premier League – that’s my biggest goal.”