A Hero for Leeds United: David Somma

By: Fernando Acevedo

Davide Somma, a former professional soccer player who was forced into an early retirement, now finds himself in Stony Brook, New York working towards a career in professional coaching. 

Somma never became a global superstar, but certainly became a hero for Leeds United, one of the biggest clubs in England, but now finds himself coaching amateur teams around Long Island.

There are a number of examples of former soccer players who were forced into retirement and turned to coaching. Julian Nagelsmann had his career cut short before it even began at the age of 19.  He suffered a knee injury, which prevented him from making his first team appearances for the German club 1860 Munich. Nine years later, he became the youngest coach in the history of Germany’s first division. Although Somma began working towards a career in coaching later than Nagelsmann, he will hope to have follow a similarly successful path.  

A former South African national team player, Somma’s big break through EduKick, an international program that sends teenage players around Europe for professional trials while also offering educational classes. He signed a contract with Logroñes, a Spanish club before joining other teams like Perugia in Italy, American side San Jose Earthquakes, and English club Leeds United. 

Joey Bilotta, president and founder of EduKick, gave Somma his chance to become a pro. “I recognized right away that Davide checked all the boxes including the important box of the proper attitude to train and be humble, and to work and strive to be better,” Bilotta said.

From there his career began in Spain in 2004, eventually leading to him being signed by Leeds United. Close friend and former teammate at Leeds United shared what made Somma so special. “He’s one of the best players I played with in my career and I played for a lot of different clubs and a lot of different teams,” Grella said. “It was just the strength he did everything with, the strength that he held the ball, the strength he ran with, the strength that he could strike a ball; I’ve never seen a guy strike a ball with right and left foot that hard, I’ve never seen that.”

There he registered one of the highest minute-to-goal ratios in the world in 2011, scoring 11 goals in 926 minutes, equating to over a goal per game. His rate of scoring a goal every 84 minutes was close to, debatably the best player in the history of the sport, Lionel Messi’s ratio from last season which was a goal every 75 minutes. According to a study from Microsoft researcher Dan Goldstein, there are 2.6 goals per soccer match, so having a player averaging over a goal per game would be huge for the success of any team.

However, his career took a nosedive that led to an early retirement, last being contracted to Leeds United in 2013 at the age of 28, due to cartilage damage that plagued his career. He never recovered from his injury in 2011, despite having a total of nine surgeries on his left knee. 

Robert Ward, vice president and director of travel with Stony Brook Soccer Club attested to how seriously Somma takes his role as a youth coach. “You have the guys who seem completely disinterested and then you have the ones that could be coaching a World Cup and that’s Davide,” Ward said.

The idea of becoming a college coach came from his experience at Stony Brook University’s club team where he started off as an assistant coach before replacing Gene Haas this summer. 

Christopher Smith, a sophomore at Stony Brook University and the treasurer for the club soccer team, expressed how Somma impressed the team with his abilities. “Someone just decided to launch it (the ball) to him and he’s not even looking, then he looks up and casually catches it like this (motions as if the ball lands on his foot), a perfect pillow touch right there behind his leg and we just went nuts,” Smith said. 

“Picking up the college team, it really opened up my eyes to that route, which is the NCAA route of the coaching license,” Somma said. “And then the other route is the US Soccer Federation where you can coach MLS. So, there’s two different routes that I’m thinking about doing.”

Having seen his coaching capabilities firsthand, Haas believes Somma can become a professional coach. “He can do it if he if he puts his mind to do it,” Haas said when asked about Somma’s chances of becoming a professional coach.

Somma’s former head coach at San Jose Earthquakes in between 2008 and 2009, Frank Yallop also sees his potential in becoming a professional head coach. “I think he would be a perfect candidate…his temperament is very good…he loves the game,” Yallop said. 

Somma believes he is on the right track currently holding a C level coaching license but should have the B and A licenses within the next four to five years. Licensing levels further coaching education and increases the likelihood of getting a job at the professional level given most clubs and colleges looks for coaches with the highest licensing available. 

From one of the lowest moments of his life, Somma is now in a better place where he can reflect on the uncertainty he faced as injury ended his career.

“My mind was going crazy,” Somma said of his mindset while dealing with his injury struggles. “I’m like ‘I don’t have any college degree I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m having kids now’,” he said. “And it was at a point that you go really low, a really low point in your life.”

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