When young players sign their first professional contracts, it is often said they have come a long way.

That is certainly true in the case of Sebastian Lletget, who celebrated his 18th birthday by formally joining West Ham United on Friday.

A talented attacking midfielder with eye-catching ball skills, Lletget was first spotted by the Hammers playing for Santa Clara Sporting SC - Sporting Clube de Portugal's US academy based near the city of San Jose, California - at the age of 13. The club are partners with the successful West Ham United International Academy, who were instrumental in bringing Lleget to London.

Following a successful trial, Lletget has been training with West Ham on and off for the past four-and-a-half years.

"I started playing at a club back in San Francisco called Sporting as Sporting Lisbon had brought their academy over to the United States," the US U17 international explained. "It's a very competitive club, so that was my best chance of ever being seen by a European scout.

"One day, I went to training as always and one of my coaches, Carlos Brasil, had a friend called Mike Leigh who was a scout for West Ham. I played a game against an older team and did really well in front of him.

"He said 'OK' and invited me over to England. I came over when I was 13 and trained with the youth team because the Under-16s were not in. I had a great training session so they asked me to play that afternoon and I scored a goal with my first touch!

"After that game, I've been visiting and training with the club ever since. I have now signed my professional contract."

While Santa Clara Sporting SC has sent players to professional clubs in Portugal, Lletget is the first to join an English side.

While he may be 5,400 miles from home, but the young playmaker has not forgotten his American roots, and he aims to follow in the footsteps of his two heroes - former Manchester City midfielder and US captain Claudio Reyna and current Villarreal CF and Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi.

"The American style of play is very different than the style of play in any other country. Spain, for example, is known for the technical side, whereas Americans are known for their athleticism.

"For me, though, my favourite player was the US midfielder Claudio Reyna, because he brought a different style to the game and I can relate to that.

"With my Italian heritage, Giuseppe Rossi is the player I look up to most because he has come from a similar background to me, and is also a similar-type player. It's my aim to make a name for myself like he has.

"My heart is in America, though, so if the chance ever arose to play for the United States, I'd love that."

Nearly five years after he first trained with the Hammers, Lletget was joined by father Francisco, mother Sara Murruni and sisters Valeria and Vanessa as he signed his first contract at the Boleyn Ground.

While the coaching staff and his fellow players have been impressed by Lletget's talents, the need for international clearance has precluded the youngster from performing in front of the club's supporters.

"I am an attacking midfielder who plays in the hole. I love to play football and I think I have good vision, good ball control and I like to pass the ball. I think those are my strongest suits. I like to express myself.

"In the upcoming season, I really want to get established and comfortable and play for the reserves then maybe I'll get spotted by the manager. Now I have signed, I don't want to rush things and put extra pressure on myself. I'm just going to take it step-by-step, day-by-day."

Sebastian Lleget