Great Britain

Barnsley’s USA superkid Daryl Dike has Championship defences for breakfast and is destined for Premier League top table

DARYL DIKE grew up falling in love with the Premier League and Didier Drogba while eating his mum’s pancakes for breakfast.

The 20-year-old American striker is on the brink of getting there himself after a staggering two-and-a-half months having Championship defences for breakfast.

Little was known about this incredible talent when Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael signed him on loan until the end of the season with an option to make the move permanent.

But his eight goals in 14 games since moving from MLS club Orlando City has attracted huge interest from Premier League clubs including Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, Everton and Leeds.

Yet, with the Tykes sitting sixth, he could be playing top-flight football at Oakwell next season instead.

It is some story for a kid who heralds from Oklahoma – hardly a hotbed for footballers.

But Dike comes from a soccer-mad family who persuaded him to shun playing American Football.

His brother Bright, sister Courtney and cousin Emmanuel Emenike all played for Nigeria.

The striker – whose parents Jacinta and Vincent are Nigerian – said: “Football was always all around me.

“With the time difference, all the weekend English games would start early in the morning.

“I’d wake up every Saturday and Sunday and the first thing I’d do was watch a match live on TV. Sometimes I’d have to get up earlier than usual so not to miss the game.

“Mum would always be making breakfast – it would be pancakes, biscuits, eggs or cereal – and I’d eat while watching the football.

“I grew up thinking, ‘One day I’d love to get the opportunity to be a professional footballer.’

“I watched a lot of football – Premier League, Championship, even League One and Two. It was a big deal for me to reach the level of playing in England.”

Dike started supporting Chelsea because of Drogba and standing at 6ft 1in tall with a powerful physique he has striking similarities with his childhood idol.

He admitted: “I loved Drogba, I enjoyed watching him. He was someone I’ve always looked up to and Chelsea was my team.

"It was ironic Dike made his debut this side of the pond against the Blues in the FA Cup in February – coming on as a second-half sub.

He said: “It was crazy. There I was on the field against players I had only seen on TV.

“Just to make my debut in English football was crazy but to do it against Chelsea, a top European team I supported, was surreal.

“I managed to get Callum Hudson-Odoi’s shirt and will keep that as a momento. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Dike only turned pro with Orlando just over a year ago.

But in that time he scored eight goals in 17 games in the MLS and has been capped twice for the USA – coming on as a sub in a 7-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago and the 2-1 victory against Northern Ireland.

So the burning question is why did a footballer swap the glamorous and warm surroundings of Orlando – the home of Disney World – for the chilly Yorkshire market town of Barnsley?

Dike said: “I was on national team camp and the day before one of our games, my agent said Barnsley wanted to sign me.

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“I told him I’d focus on the national team and talk after. I was able to get my first USA cap and that was a phenomenal.

“To be able to come to Barnsley I had to have won a cap. I spoke with my agent and family and felt it was a great opportunity.

“I knew about the team as I had often watched the Championship and other leagues below the Premier League.

“So the next day I was on the plane to London and got driven up to Barnsley.

“I was amazed when I arrived because in Orlando it had been blistering hot – but in Barnsley it was freezing cold and snowing! I thought, ‘Wow, this is a bit different!’”

Dike has been unable to familiarise himself with the town and surrounding area because of lockdown restrictions – and has been holed up mostly in his apartment studying a finance degree.

He said: “I’ve been watching TV, playing video games and catching up with friends back home – but I’ve also been doing schooling.

“I’m trying to get into green finance and have been attending university lectures online. I’ve always been a number’s guy and interested in math.

“Education has been a big thing in my family so I’ve kept up with that.

“I’d love to play until I’m 75 but I don’t think the body will allow me so after football I want to pursue a career I enjoy and a degree will help me.”

However, Dike – although he is yet to play in front of fans at Oakwell – has been bowled over by the reception he gets when walking around the town.

Hardly a day passes without a Barnsley fan stopping for a chat or sending him a letter via the club or social media.

He said: “I’ll go to a grocery store and people will stop me and ask, ‘Are you Daryl Dike?’ and then we’ll talk a little.

"The people here are super friendly. Every time I go on social media I can see the kind of close-knit family culture of Barnsley and also see that through my team-mates and the staff.

“It makes me feel good to know I’ve fans here and that I’m impacting on someone else’s life in a positive way.”

Dike is one of seven Americans currently playing in the Championship – joining Swansea’s Jordon Morris (loan), Duane Holmes of Huddersfield, QPR’S Charlie Kelman and Geoff Cameron, Rotherham ace Matthew Olosunde and Bournemouth’s Cameron Carter-Vickers (loan).

And Dike believes that this will only increase in both the Premier League and EFL because the talent pool in the US is growing fast.

He said: “You’ll see more opportunities arise because of what people like Christian Pulisic are doing at Chelsea. That has given more trust in American players this side of the Atlantic.”

Dike has revealed that one of the biggest pieces of advice he was given when moving across to the Mother Country was to try Nando’s as it is so much better than in the States.

He said: “One of my Orlando team-mates Dan Dwyer is from the UK and went through what food to try.

“He recommended Nando’s. I managed one trip and had butterfly chicken, peri-peri sauce and fries! It was nice.”

Dike admits he had to adjust to a more physical and direct style of football than he had been used to.

Surely he would not have bargained on things going as perfectly as it has on the field with his goals tally, performances and Barnsley challenging for promotion?

He said: “I can see myself growing as a player and getting better.

“I don’t know if I’ve exceeded expectations because I went into this with an open mind.

“I wanted to challenge myself and live the experience day by day. I couldn’t ask for a better beginning to English football.”

Dike has zoned out of all the speculation regarding his future but confirmed to SunSport he will sit down to discuss playing for Barnsley next season in the Premier League if the club are promoted.

He said: “We believe we can achieve something special. Everyone has the same belief.”

But what is his ultimate ambition?

“I want to be the greatest player I can. I want to play in World Cups and the Champions League. I want to reach the highest of heights.

“I’ve a long way to go to continue to grow and reach that level.”

But he has not made a bad start.

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