Portadown Youth’s Alberto Balde received the perfect belated birthday present this week with confirmation of a deal to join Premier League-based Middlesbrough.
Balde turned 15 last week but the real celebrations arrived when the Spain-born striker wrapped up talks with the English top-flight club on a two-year scholarship agreement leading to a one-year professional deal with the option of another season.
The teenager, who has been representing Portadown Youth from the under 12s, will formalise the contract next year on his 16th birthday and join up with the club on a permanent basis ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Balde has attracted attention from a host of professional clubs in England and Scotland over the past few years thanks to his form with Portadown Youth.
Long-term coach Gary Magee and his assistant, Glen Traynor, have worked with the bright prospect since his first day with the Portadown grassroots club.
“First and foremost, we are delighted for Alberto to finally secure the move he feels most comfortable with and best for his future in the game,” said Magee. “Everyone at Portadown Youth, not just those connected to the same teams over the years, is delighted to see Alberto getting this wonderful opportunity.
“Middlesbrough have been brilliant to deal with and extended an open invitation for us to visit Alberto when we like down the line.
“Barney McKeown, another Portadown Youth player, has an agreement in place with Everton which starts next season, so it is an exciting period for the development work put in by the club.
“Although Glen and myself have worked closely with Alberto, it has been a team effort by so many at Portadown Youth and special thanks must especially go to Trevor Williamson for his commitment.
“Everyone at Portadown Youth wants the best for Alberto and his progress, along with that of Barney and every single player.
“Hopefully the boys’ development will act as an inspiration to other players and show there is a path available via the club.
“There is a wonderful environment at Middlesbrough and part of the agreement could see coaching staff from the club coming over to Portadown in the future or even more of a connection between us both.
“We have enjoyed working with Alberto over the past few years but this is an exciting time now for him and his family.”
Balde attracted global attention as the subject of a Google film which told his story and the success of his integration into Portadown Youth. It attracted a worldwide online audience and was broadcast on Sky Sports.