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Apr 24, 2009

Renken upbeat despite latest knee injury

Charles Renken, perhaps, America's top budding young player is on the shelf again with a knee injury. For the second time in 14 months, the 15-year-old Renken, who has already gained attention from several top European teams, is dealing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He sustained his latest ACL injury last month during a friendly against Uruguay with the U.S. U-17 team. Renken, a two-footed midfielder, injured the same knee in January of 2008 during a training session with the U-17s.

As a result, Renken was left off the U.S. roster for this month's CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Mexico. However, the young star addressed concerns about his prospective return to the pitch.

"My doctor ([U.S. national team physician Dr. Bert Mandelbaum] says that my surgery was perfect and I honestly feel fantastic," Renken said. "Before the operation, I thought there was no way I could be back for the world championships [in October], but my doctor says I am responding so well that it is possible."

Added Renken: "I hope I can. I want to represent my country. I can't wait to play again. In the meantime, I am just rooting on my teammates. They are great players and great friends and I know that they will do great."

Mandelbaum is confident in a full recovery by Renken.

"Charles' surgery went extremely well and he has responded even better than I could have hoped for," Mandelbaum said. "Charles is a great kid and I am very confident that he will be back playing soccer in six months, and that he will excel."

Virtually every English Premier League team -- from Manchester United to Liverpool -- has shown some interest in Renken. He has already worked out for Arsenal and Reading and, in Germany, 1860 Munich and Bayern Munich. Renken and U-17 teammate, striker Joseph-Claude Gyau, practiced with Bayern Munich just this past January.

"We have heard from at least 12 different [first division] teams in Europe," said Renken's agent Dan Segal of Wasserman Media Group LLC. "We didn't go seek them out. These people came and found us. They have been checking in on Charles since his injury and hope to see him as soon as he's back."

Added one Premier League scout: "He should bounce back very fast, he's young. You never know for sure, but I think he will be fine. I like him. He's so quick and has a great knowledge of how to play the game. Everyone will still be interested."

Renken could sign a pro contract with a big club within the 12 months. In addition, industry sources have confirmed to ESPNsoccernet that Renken has already signed an endorsement deal with Nike worth about $1 million, similar to that of Freddy Adu.

Renken, a native of Zambia who moved to the U.S. in February of 2003 and was later adopted by Seth and Pamela Renken of Edwardsville , Ill., grew up idolizing Adu. Heidi Burgett, a Nike spokesperson, confirmed that Renken is under contract with the swooshed giant. She declined to comment on specifics of the deal.

The two knee injuries in just over a year have frustrated Renken. Still, he's trying to think about all of his dreams that lie ahead. He hopes for a glorious return to the U-17s at the World Cup in Nigeria -- set for Oct. 24 to Nov. 15.

Certainly, a lot of people are eagerly awaiting Renken's return to the pitch. "I know that lots of teams have called and I am flattered," Renken said. "It means a lot when people check in with you when you are hurt. I have ambition to be a top player... I know I have to work hard to get there and find the right environment."

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