Barnsley v Derby County - Daryl Dike in pursuit of the American dream at Oakwell
The 6ft 2in, 15-and-a-half stone striker, built like the proverbial outhouse and listed on FIFA last year as the second strongest player in the world, recalled how his parents stopped him from playing American football when he was growing up in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City.
They considered it to be too dangerous. Although it may have also had something to do with the fact that his parents, both Nigerian immigrants, played what the Americans call ‘soccer’ in their formative years.
For Dike, and his family, football has nothing to do with gridiron. Perish the thought.
The decision to let Dike, the youngest of five siblings, pursue his dreams in the world game looks to be a shrewd one.
Barnsley’s new loan signing told The Yorkshire Post: “When I was younger, I was a big guy and everyone was trying to get me to play American football.
“But my parents did not like it and said it was dangerous because of the safety of it. My brother played football as well and my parents played.
“They said: ‘You know what, why don’t you try football?’
“I have played football for my entire life, although I ran track a little bit in middle school and high school.
“There was a USL (United Soccer League) second division team who I trained with when I was younger and I played with some teams and you’d travel to Texas, Kansas and across the country to play teams.”
The latest chapter in Dike’s story has now taken him from the warm winter sunshine in Orlando to wintry Yorkshire. It is a challenge he is ‘super-excited’ about, as he puts it.
An intelligent young man who clearly has the maturity to look after himself off the pitch in adapting to a new country as well as take care of himself on it, Dike has one particular role model who is a constant source of support and sage advice.
It is not a famous name as such, but someone a lot closer to him. His older brother Bright, who played college ‘soccer’ at the University of Notre Dame before plying his trade as a forward in the MLS and overseas.
Now retired, his career took him to clubs in Russia and Malaysia in an eclectic journey. What his kid brother admires the most about him is his spirit and determination to succeed and overcome the odds.
Dike added: “In terms of my heroes, I am actually going to be boring here and say my brother.
“When I was younger, I always used to look up to my brother; I still do.
“He was my inspiration to start playing. He had a good career and always kind of fought through, whether it be with an injury or something like that.
“When something kind of knocked him down, he kept pushing and fighting to move forward.
“That is something I look up to and respect. Just to see it first hand how hard he worked and achieved everything he did. He has retired now and works in (Washington) DC. Another reason I am inspired by him is that he helps me with my game.
“In terms of coming over here, he gave me ideas and tips and warned me it is going to be hard. It is going to be difficult and there are some top players here.
“He has prepared me mentally and is the kind of person who will genuinely give you his best opinions about football and how to improve.
“Everyone in my family is super-excited and knows how hard I have worked my entire life for this and how excited I am.
“They have supported me since I was a little kid and at school and they know this has been my dream and want me to make the most of it.”
Dike arrives at Barnsley from Orlando City with a serious Stateside reputation.
Last Sunday, he became a fully-fledged USA international – enabling him to fulfil immigration criteria to head to England. His progress came off the back of a stellar debut season with Orlando which saw him win the ‘MLS Rookie of the Year’ accolade and finish third in the Young Player of the Year award.
He finished the season with eight goals and four assists and has already been the subject of failed bids from clubs in Germany and Belgium.
This week, Barnsley chief executive Dane Murphy revealed that Dike’s time at Barnsley, with the Reds having an option to buy him permanently inserted into his loan deal, will be monitored by Premier League clubs.
At 20, his star is in the ascendancy. But being ‘big time’ is not in his footballing DNA.
For someone whose family have team sports running through their DNA, Dike – whose sister Courtney also featured in the World Cup for Nigeria – is conscious of the importance of team and not self.
Asked about what he will bring to Barnsley in particular, Dike, hoping to be involved today, commented: “Maybe my athleticism, size and speed can help the guys around me whether it is scoring goals or helping with anything.
“Any way I can help the team out – whether it is using my speed or brain. My best attribute is my hold-up play and I like it to my feet and chest and to give it to other players and it is kind of one of my strong suits.”
“I want to grow as a player and a person at Barnsley and want to see what I can do to improve myself and the club as well.”
A well-rounded, likeable individual with a good support network around him, Dike insists that heading to England in the depths of winter from Florida will not be a culture shock.
His early words suggest he will be just fine.
He quipped: “It is a little bit colder here, but it is nice. It reminds me of Edmond in Oklahoma a little bit. I have brought a few warm clothes!
“I know about the hard working community and the structure that the town is built on. Everyone working super-hard for their team-mates is part of the culture and club. It is something I’ve learned quickly.”
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