Rhain Davis has created a YouTube phenomenon around a schoolchild that, for once, doesn't involve happy-slapping. Manchester United's nine-year-old signing is at the forefront of a new way to project sporting prodigies into the public eye.

The four-minute clip highlighting Davis' extraordinary mastery of a football is heading beyond four million hits on the hugely popular video-posting website. More people have already witnessed him in action than most lower-league professionals experience over an entire career.

Last week, clips of other young footballers were being tagged with his name as a decoy. A search for Rhian Davis (sic) on YouTube meant your attention could instead be diverted towards some hopeful from Croatia, knocking in goals on a public park. Would it be uncharitable to hint at pushy parents keen for their offspring to gatecrash some of the limelight? In the case of young Davis, it was his grandfather who forwarded a DVD of his talents to United. The club are keen to point out that he is one of 30 nine-year-olds recruited each year by their academy, but it's safe to assume that no other has been tagged as "the new Rooney" by a tabloid newspaper.

Davis had moved from England to Australia at four years old and was playing boys club football in Brisbane when he was suddenly projected into the glaring limelight. The footage of him mesmerising opponents with twisting runs, stepovers and all manner of tricks was eye-catching enough, yet what seemed amazing was the freakish sense of intelligence in the movement and passing of a kid still mastering his times-tables, if such things exist in education these days.

Some may recall that there was a vaguely similar hubbub a couple of years ago around Jean Carlos Chera, a nine-year-old Brazilian who eventually joined Santos. Davis' fame has spread faster and wider, though, thanks in no small part to YouTube.

Inevitably, a far greater sense of expectation will now stalk Davis, whose family have moved back to England, in comparison with his contemporaries.

The bookmakers Coral have been offering 10/1 against him making the United first team and 50/1 against him becoming an England internationalist.

On the optimistic side, Joe Cole is living proof that hype can sometimes produce the real thing. Cole had to live with the "new Gazza" label from being a primary school kid on the books of West Ham United. After a couple of false starts, he is now pretty much the most creative player in the England squad, and a double Premiership winner with Chelsea.

There are, though, several names that chime with warning for the Davis family as they seek to protect their boy. Sonny Pike, a nephew of Mark Falco, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Rangers striker, was so extravagantly gifted that he was invited to join the Ajax academy at the age of seven. Yet he suffered a nervous breakdown while still part of their youth squad, after being unable to deal with the pressure he felt from the club, agents and sponsors. Pike turned his back on professional football and went off to pursue an entirely different career by studying psychology at Dundee University.

Nil Lamptey was another cursed by expectation.

No less a figure than Pele claimed, somewhat unhelpfully, that he could become the best in the world after his starring role for Ghana at the Under-17 World Cup in 1991. Lamptey went on to endure unsuccessful stints in Belgium, England, Germany and China before apparently returning home to Ghana.

In the current enviroment, the next few years may prove decisive in the career of Freddy Adu, another well-publicised prodigy.

Burdened by a professional contract and sponsorship endorsements since the age of 14, the American of Ghanian descent was linked with everyone from Chelsea and Manchester United to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even Celtic got a mention from his advisors. It has, though, been Benfica whom he has joined in Europe after gaining Major League Soccer experience with DC United and Real Salt Lake. Adu's development will be closely scrutinised in Portugal and beyond.

It remains to be seen what is the future holds for Rhain Davis. For now, the little star of YouTube deserves space to enjoy his football while facing the trials of growing up.