At age 16, Gianluca Busio is making a name for himself with Sporting KC
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire
When did you first get into soccer?
My dad’s from Italy, so his family was always into soccer. My older brother is 21 now. He was playing soccer when I was born. I even had a soccer ball in my baby chair. Every Sunday morning, my dad would watch Serie A, the Italian league. We’d watch it before or after breakfast, whenever it came on. Sometimes, we would also watch Premier League. I was learning from a really young age from my brother and dad. My whole family loved the sport.
Anyone who has had a child play soccer has crazy soccer parent stories, but it doesn’t seem to me like your parents were that way.
Not at all. They didn’t force me to do anything, let alone play soccer. Throughout my younger days, I played everything. I took a year off from soccer when I was around 10 to play football, basketball, baseball. I tried every other sport, and I’d always come back to soccer. My parents have supported me no matter where I went; they didn’t care, as long as I did it 100 percent. And every season I started, I had to finish it out. So they didn’t really force me or push me into any direction. They just wanted me to be happy.
Was there a certain point when you started to notice the attention you were receiving from coaches or teams?
It was probably around my first national team camp, I believe it was December of 2015. That was the first U.S. national team camp that I got called for. Nobody really knew me that well. That first camp, I met a bunch of guys who were playing for academies. That year, I focused on working toward an academy. I played in showcases, and I worked hard to stand out so that an academy could pick me up.
A lot of teams expressed interest in you. How difficult was it to sort through what everyone was telling you to decide where you wanted to play?
The programs that were interested in me, they all had something to offer. But honestly, it was my choice, and my family helped me a lot. The clubs were all really good teams. The soccer was all high level. So I just went to see how I felt there, meeting the coaches and the players. I went in with an open mind. I wanted to see how I fit in with the people in the area as well.
You are the second youngest player to sign an MLS contract (15 years, 89 days). How did your life change when you signed a contract and became a pro?
I don’t think anything changed that much. I had moved to Kansas City by myself and played in the academy for a year before I signed. I lived with a host family that first year at the academy. That was pretty difficult for the first couple of months. I was at a new club, and they needed a chance to see me play and decide whether I deserved to start. I wasn’t really playing that much. I didn’t know anyone on the team that well, I didn’t have any friends around the area, and I was going to a new school. Those first few months were tough for me. But once I started playing the game more, getting settled in, meeting people, it has been a great experience.
Were you surprised at how quickly the opportunity came for you to play with the first team at Sporting KC?
I didn’t necessarily expect it, but I wasn’t putting a timetable on it either. I was always told to stay ready, in case the opportunity does come. I never really thought I would be too old or too young. I was always ready for it. But it’s just a start. This isn’t my end goal. I want to keep on working. It’s a good starting point for me, but I have to keep moving forward.
The amazing thing about this is that by no means is it a publicity stunt. Your team is a playoff team. By signing you, they’re saying that this is a guy that can help us win.
My coaches were showing trust in me. We were fighting for first place when I joined the first team. That they trust me to put me out there, even in the starting 11, they believe that I can help the team. That gives me a lot of confidence. It helps me as a player and a person to know that there are people helping me be the best I can be.
So when you are 16, and you are named to the starting eleven for the first time, and you walk into this loud stadium in Houston, what is that experience like?
I felt a little bit of everything—the nerves, smiling, happy—everything kind of hit me at once. But it all went away once I got into the game and started playing. It felt like another game. I didn’t pay too much attention to the stands, but walking out there during the warm up, you definitely knew it was an away game. You got a few little hecklers telling you you’re not good enough. Once you get on the field though, it’s just another game, and I was out there trying to get a win. That’s how I like to go into every game. Play your best, and everything will work out fine.
Your first game as a starter was a really physical chippy game in Houston. Three of the Dynamo players got sent off with red cards. How odd was it to have that as your first game as a starter?
It was definitely one of the more chippy games, but that’s kind of what I expected when I signed that contract. I expected it to be more physical. These are grown men playing. They’re fighting for their jobs. I didn’t expect them to be easy and let me go untouched. It was a tough game, but I have to get used to that. It’s going to happen. It’s nothing I shouldn’t be prepared for. I was happy to get out there. All you can do is try not to let any of the chippy stuff get into your head. If I get into it, it takes me out of my game. I tried my best to stay out of it and play soccer.
Do you get the sense that because you’re so young, that you are treated differently than more experienced players are?
There are definitely some players I bet that say, “He’s a young kid, and we’re not going to let him have things easy.” And that’s part of the game right? They’re not supposed to take it easy on me because of my age. I’m a 16-year-old, and they’re going to let me have it a little bit. That’s a good thing. It will make me a better player. It’s going to make me bring out the best of my game to get through it.
What have your interactions with fans been like either in person or on social media?
It’s been great. In Kansas, the fans here are crazy! The stadium is sold out almost every game. Even outside of the game, if I’m out shopping, a couple of people will recognize me, and it’s all nice things. “We’re proud of you. It’s unreal what you’re doing right now.” They’ve been very supportive.
With your long hair, you do have a very recognizable look. Are you being recognized a lot more outside the field?
After a couple of games, I’m definitely being recognized a lot more. I guess I’m hard to miss (laughs). It’s been new to me, people asking for pictures and autographs, but I love it. I’m happy to help to be a role model for kids. I never really thought I would be a role model at this age, but I am. When I was growing up, if I met somebody who I thought was a role model for me, I would love for that person to take a picture or give me a high five. When kids come up to me and ask for pictures, I love stopping for them. I was in their shoes at one point. I kind of still am. There are people I play with and against that I looked up to growing up, so if I can make the fans happy, it’s amazing.
Has there been anything that’s been surprising to you about the experience as a pro so far?
I didn’t really know the guys on the team that well. This year, I can tell they are all regular teammates. I’m pretty good friends with the guys on the first team now. They are a good group of guys that are here to play soccer and have fun. They’re helping me and want me to succeed.
Is it easy or difficult for you socially? There is a big age gap between you and some of the other players.
My mom has asked me, “Who do you hang out with outside of soccer?” (laughs) When I moved here and spent a year at the academy, it helped me create a core group of friends that are my age, and I’m still good friends with them. So I still spend time with teammates that are 10 years older than me, but I also hang out with with regular high schoolers who are my age. I feel like I have a good average between hanging out with older guys and the high schoolers.
How would you describe your FIFA skills?
I think I’m pretty good. On all the teams I’ve played on—national team, academy, and now Sporting KC, I’m usually one of the top guys, maybe in the top three. Every team. I’ve been on, there’s a lot of trash talking.
Who is the Best FIFA Player on Sporting KC?
If not me, I would say Kuzain (Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal) or Daniel Salloi. I’m better than both of them, but if I had to give you one person…
What would you like people to know about you that they don’t currently know?
People might think, “He’s a big deal. He signed a pro contract at 15. He’s playing in the MLS at 16.” But it’s not that at all. I’m just a regular kid who happens to be playing professional soccer.