The first media question asked to Atlanta United homegrown George Bello at the training ground on Tuesday is something that’s rarely brought up to professional athletes. It’s not because it’s in poor taste. It’s just not often that there’s a 16-year-old on the team.
“We heard you were in school today?”
“Actually, I’m on spring break.”
One wouldn’t think that someone as young as Bello would be as busy as perhaps his older teammates. He does however mention that balancing schoolwork and being a professional athlete isn’t as tough as it may sound.
“It’s not that hard. My school is really compliant with me. They know that I’m here, so whenever I get back, they make it really easy for me to catch up on all the work I have to do.”
Bello attends Rivers Academy, a private school that focuses on offering flexible schedules for athletes and performing artists. The school’s highest priority “is to provide our students with the balance between being a child and excelling in both their academics and their chosen passions”. Bello’s on target for an early graduation this summer.
When he’s not in the classroom, the young left back is succeeding on the field. Last Saturday, not only did Bello make his professional debut with Atlanta United 2, but he also gave the reserves an early 1-0 lead in the 27th minute.
The Homegrown with his first professional goal pic.twitter.com/pqF49btq4n— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) March 31, 2018
Although it’s officially credited as an own goal, ATL UTD 2 head coach Scott Donnelly gives him the benefit of the doubt.
“He certainly started and finished it, so I’ll give him credit for that.”
It’s important to remember that Bello is a defender. There aren’t many prospects in the world that are as comfortable going from the backline to the forefront of a counterattack in a moment’s notice as he is. Donnelly praises his fearlessness.
“We know it’s there, so we’re not surprised. He’s natural in that he sees the game very clearly, and when he sees a moment to go, he goes. That’s why he’s a huge prospect for the club because he has the ability to play high up the field and also play in a defensive role. As I said after the game on Saturday, we have no hesitation to put him on the field and trust him for 90 minutes. He rewarded that faith with a good performance.”
Bello’s longtime club and academy teammate Chris Goslin could not have been happier for him.
“It was amazing. He’s been working really hard. He’s the youngest guy, so it was great seeing him have a really good performance and make his debut.”
Bello admits he isn’t immune to the nerves of it all.
“Before the game, I was a little jittery for my first pro game, but as it went on and I got touches on the ball, I grew into the game. To be able to get the goal, er, own goal, it was a really great moment.”
This isn’t a player that comes around often. The highly touted defender is one of the next prospects in line to eventually make their first team debut. Tata Martino made that clear by including Bello in pre-match warmups before the Vancouver Whitecaps game last month.
“It was a great moment to be able to suit up with the guys. It was really fun.”
It’s only a matter of time. If Bello continues to succeed with the reserves, that moment will come sooner than later.