FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Saturday was a non-matchday in Ft. Lauderdale and it made for a relaxed day in and around the combine hotel. In the morning, I caught a few things that I didn’t catch in the previous days: agents working the lobby, sight of Red Bull New York GM Erik Solér – who flew in Friday straight from a ski trip in his native Norway – and a post-8 am wake-up call.
After a beachside lunch on A1A and an afternoon production meeting I hooked up with English midfielder and SuperDraft hopeful Jason Banton for a poolside chat – hey, it’s South Florida in January, why conduct an interview indoors if you don’t have to?
Even in the prerequisite combine uniform of a blue adidas tracksuit, Banton stands out from the crowd. With a box-fresh pair of Prada trainers, a gleaming gold tooth and a hairstyle that borders on being a high-top fade, the onetime Liverpool signee looks more like hip-hop icon Slick Rick than any one of the 60 or so American college kids he’s playing with at the combine.
He also has enough ink on his body to rewrite the Magna Carta.
“I like my ink, I’ve got a few tattoos. Actually I’ve lost count so more than a few,” laughs Banton.
His career path is also unlike that of most of the other prospects here at the combine.
“It’s a bit different when you speak to some of the other guys,” Banton told me. “Some of them are 23 or 24 and they’re just leaving school where as I started off at Arsenal from the age of 7, Blackburn bought me when I was 16. I’m 19 now and have been doing fulltime football for about two or three years.”
Between all those English clubs and this week’s trip to “Laudy Daudy” there was an April 2011 training pitstop with Chivas USA, where he got a sense for what it’s like to train with an MLS first team.
It wasn’t his first taste of America, though, as this North London lad knows a little something about the great November tradition of the turkey coma.
“My family actually goes to New York every year for Thanksgiving,” revealed Banton. “We have family there and in Toronto so I’ve just always had a thing for America.”