Important summer ahead for Mullingar’s Deji

Former Mullingar Athletic youngster Ayodeji Sotona faces a big decision this summer – whether or not to stay at Manchester United, or pursue a move abroad to take his fledgling football career to the next level.

Last September, Sotona made headlines as the fastest player on the books at United, after speed tests were carried out at the club’s Carrington training complex.

And with the versatile winger tearing it up for both the club’s U18 and U23s, he has been widely tipped to be among the next academy graduates to make it into United’s first team.

However, reports in May suggested that Sotona has concerns about his long-term development at United, and possible suitors in Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 are circling for deals in the wake of Covid-19’s financial impact on football.

In the past, clubs like Borussia Dortmund have profited greatly from recruiting young talent from English clubs and launching them as international stars. Jadon Sancho, formerly of Manchester City, is a prime example, and BVB hope to achieve the same result with midfielder Jude Bellingham, recently signed from Birmingham City.

European interest in Sotona has been piqued by the fact that as of two months ago, he had not yet been offered a professional contract – despite turning 17 last December.

According to the Daily Mirror, the youngster is highly rated at Old Trafford and talks are under way to tie him down with a permanent deal, although two months later, nothing further has been confirmed.

United have been linked to a big money move for Sancho, as academy graduates like Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong have so far struggled to make an impact in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s matchday squad.

However, with United’s squad gradually stabilising and the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams and Scott McTominay coming through the club’s youth ranks as established professionals, Sotona may yet be persuaded to buy in to the Solskjær project.

Deji Sotona in his Mullingar Harriers singlet in 2013.

Born in Waterford, ‘Deji’ moved to Mullingar as a child and attended Mullingar Educate Together National School, where he was part of the ETNS team that won a Cumann na mBunscol boys’ Division 4 Gaelic football title in 2013, and an Iggy Fulham Memorial Cup in 2015.

He also joined Mullingar Athletic and Mullingar Harriers, enjoying success with Athletic’s U12s and winning a number of provincial and national sprinting medals with Harriers.

He was with the Grange-based athletics club in 2013 and 2014, where he won a Leinster indoor 60m U12 medal and an All-Ireland bronze in 2013. That same year, he ran lead leg for the 4x100m relay (U12); the team won a silver medal.

In 2014, the former St Finian’s College student started to gravitate towards soccer and before long, was scouted and snapped up by Manchester United’s academy.

He has since been capped by the Republic of Ireland at schoolboy level, but is eligible to play for both Nigeria and England as well.

Among Sotona’s academy teammates are highly-rated young French midfielder Hannibal Mejbri, and Harvey Neville, son of former United star Phil Neville.