As a 16-year-old released from Manchester United’s academy following 10 years at the club, you’re left with a number of options, writes WILL FARR

Head down the lower leagues, get a trial and continue your football journey from the bottom.

Sit, wait and hope that you caught the eye of a scout somewhere who will snap you up for their youth team.

Or, in the case of Bolton-born Laurence Wyke, go to boarding school, play football and be patient for that precious phone call. A phone call that will take you to Texas, and then South Carolina before making your debut for Atlanta United in front of 59,000 people on the opening weekend of the Major League Soccer 2020 season.

Wyke’s career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster.

Growing up in Harwood, his passion for the game began playing for Eagley Rangers before being scouted by United at the age of six.

While most children his age were climbing up trees or kicking a ball against the fence, Wyke was busy signing a contract at one of the best academies in the country.

“It was surreal spending a decade in the Manchester United academy,” the midfielder said.

“It was a great experience, we had the best coach, the best facilities, the best treatment. It was amazing. When I got released, I was devastated, and I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to pursue a career in football.”

With a career in professional football growing more improbable, former Canon Slade pupil Wyke went back into education at Repton School in Derbyshire.

He wouldn’t be the first footballer to emerge from the school. Current Watford player Will Hughes was one of the hottest prospects in the country shortly after leaving Repton.

However, injuries to his back hampered Wyke’s first year of independent school football, five months on the sidelines meaning as he approached 17 he was restricted to just a handful of games going into his senior year.

Fast forward to the end of his final year however, and Wyke had broken records and rekindled his belief in his abilities once more.

“When I left United, I wanted to put my eggs in different baskets, so I went to Repton School,” he said.

“My first year was scuppered by injury but when I went into my senior year, I did really well.

“I scored 43 goals and broke the school record for number of goals in a single season.

“Will Hughes got around 27 goals in Year 11 and that kind of spurred me on. I was looking at the scoreboard and thinking that if Will and all these other players can go on to do what they have, then maybe I have a shot, maybe I should continue my football journey.”

Wyke’s football journey would take him to one of the unlikeliest of places, thanks to a call from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

“I wanted to keep on performing at the highest level and Trinity University provided that option,” he said.

“Their football program was one of the best in the SoCon (Southern Conference) division. I just remember thinking: ‘You know what? I’m going to go for it’.

The Bolton News:

“It hasn’t been too tough adapting to life in America, everyone over here is so kind. My host families were great too, both of them. They really helped me out in difficult times when I didn’t really know what to do after college, who to sign for and how to sort out a deal.

“It was easy settling in.”

Off the field, Wyke had it all laid out and on the field, it was going even better.

A move to Furman University in South Carolina proved fruitful as he won 2017 SoCon Player of the Year along with inclusion in two consecutive All Star selections.

Now into his twenties, Wyke’s drive to make it in America was intensifying with every kick of the ball.

“I had an impact at Furman but it was tough,” he said.

“Winning the award in 2017 and getting the recognition was another stepping stone for me. That’s when I started thinking I could have a shot at the MLS and a real chance of going further in football.

“All of my experiences of playing in the Manchester United academy gave me the confidence to do well here in America, first with Repton and then Furman. It was a crazy spiral upwards and it’s just kept on going.”

Years of training, moving, working hard and daring to believe came to fruition on March 1.

Having secured a move to Atalanta United 2 in 2019, Wyke was waiting for an important call.

This time, the man on the end of the phone was first team boss Frank de Boer, who summoned the 23-year-old for his MLS debut at Nashville, coming on at half-time in a 2-1 victory.

The message from Champions League winner de Boer? Believe.

“It was a surreal moment making my MLS debut, walking out in front of 60,000 fans at the Nissan stadium in Nashville,” Wyke said.

“The manager Frank de Boer said to just play my game, enjoy it and have belief in my abilities.

“He said: ‘If you’re in this position going further, then we believe that you can do great things on the field’, so I went out there with great confidence.

“I was a little nervous because it was a tough environment to play in, we were 2-1 ahead and I came on after Franco Escobar went down injured unexpectedly.

“I just wanted to see the game out and get three points."

A first start quickly followed in 2-1 home win over Cincinnati four days later.

It was Wyke this time who had to replaced due to a concussion, with a resumption of the MLS due to the coronavirus pandemic following a similar trajectory to English football.

Players are back in training, but no return is expected until at least the middle of next month.

"I had a great experience and hopefully more opportunities will arise from that,” Wyke said.

Atlanta, whilst still relatively new to the league, are no pushovers. Already boasting an MLS Cup to their name they count former Premier League goalkeeper Brad Guzan as one of their senior players.

“It was just crazy playing with players such as Brad,” Wyke said.

“He mentored me, you may see a video of him slapping me between the ears and just boosting my confidence!

“He told me not to do any silly fouls – me being English, he knows we’re not shy of a tackle. “Brad is such a leader, a great guy and a great goalkeeper. Obviously, I saw him during his Premier League years and it’s kind of crazy to think I’m now training and playing with him.”