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Endrick: Brazilian, 15, matching Neymar and attracting attention from Europe’s leading clubs

Endrick poses for a picture with two trophies
Endrick, 15, won the award for the tournament’s best player as his Palmeiras side lifted the Copa Sao Paulo, Brazil’s premier under-21 competition, in January

As Palmeiras and Oeste finished their warm-ups on 19 January, scouts from Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Southampton, Ajax and Benfica all took their seats ready for the quarter-finals of the Copa Sao Paulo, Brazil’s premier youth competition.

They were mostly there to watch Endrick. The 15-year-old striker had taken the under-21 tournament by storm, having scored four goals up to that point and making an even bigger impact than Brazil and Paris St-Germain star Neymar did at the same age.

Not even in their wildest dreams could they have anticipated, though, what they were about to see.

In the 13th minute the ball dropped behind the Palmeiras wonderkid and, without giving it much thought, he produced a bicycle kick from outside the box which dipped perfectly into the net.

“I think we might be seeing a very special talent emerging,” said Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker.

All of a sudden, he was being compared to Brazil striking legend Ronaldo and some of the country’s other iconic attacking players.

Endrick did not stop there, going on to score in the 4-0 final win against Santos and was named the most valuable player of the Copinha, as the competition is affectionately known.

“I can’t recall any other player of his age in recent history doing what he did,” his advisor Frederico Pena, chief executive of TFM – the same sports agency who work with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr and Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli – told BBC Sport.

“The way he handled all the pressure was impressive because sometimes you see a kid having a great game and then struggling to maintain the same level of performance. That didn’t happen to him. Despite contracting Covid-19 during the campaign, he actually only got better.”

None of this came as a surprise, however, for those already familiar with a boy who, last year, featured for Palmeiras in the Sao Paulo State Championship finals in the under-15, under-17 and under-20 age groups.

Many back home wanted him included in the squad the South American champions have taken to the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates this month. But Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira ruled out any chance of Endrick making the trip and being involved in a potential meeting with Chelsea.

Regardless of that, it seems a matter of time before he plays at a higher level and, for him, time clearly moves faster.

Overcoming challenges on and off the pitch

Endrick’s father Douglas Sousa will never forget the day his son came to him asking for food back in their hometown of Brasilia – and he did not have any to give.

As Sousa cried, he heard Endrick promise he would become a footballer and improve things for them.

A natural-born talent, the young forward quickly got himself on the radar of Sao Paulo, but could not reach a deal as they were willing to offer a monthly allowance of only £25 to assist in the family’s move south.

It was at that stage, when Endrick was only 11, that rivals Palmeiras stepped up and sealed his signing.

“I had received a video of him playing in Brasilia and really liked what I saw, so I gave the OK for an offer that would allow them to rent an apartment in Sao Paulo,” said Joao Paulo Sampaio, Palmeiras’ youth football co-ordinator.

“And Endrick stood out from the very first moment. Soon after arriving, he scored a bicycle kick in the first-leg draw with Santos in the under-11 State Championship finals. Then, in the second leg with 22.000 home fans watching, he got the winner to secure the title. He’s like this. Each time we’ve challenged him, he’s responded.”

It was not so smooth for the Sousa family at their new home, though.

In his first six months in Sao Paulo, Endrick’s father remained unemployed and sold breakfast at the Barra Funda bus stationexternal-link to make some money. A while after, he was offered a job as a cleaner by Palmeiras. Sometimes, he even had meals with first-team players, but would only eat soup. That intrigued goalkeeper Jailson, who found out Sousa had only seven teeth and paid for his dental treatment.

These struggles are now over, however. After Endrick’s recent success, the frontman’s father no longer works at the club.

More Romario than Ronaldo?

The front cover of Placar, featuring Endrick
Endrick is the cover star of this month’s Placar, the most popular sports magazine in Brazil

Despite his age, Brazil’s hottest prospect has impressed not only with his clinical finishing and nose for goal, but also with his dedication. Endrick already has eyes on the long term.

“We’ve got two examples in Vinicius Jr and Martinelli and we talk a lot about them, showing him what their daily routine is like, how they handled adversities and also took care of their bodies,” Pena said.

“It was very complicated for both of them to get where they are now. Vinicius went through difficult moments at Real Madrid, where after doing a lot of stuff and it seeming like he’d made it, he found himself out of matchday squads.

“Martinelli, too, may be back starting games again, but he spent almost a year at Arsenal without regular football. So we explain to him that it doesn’t matter if you’re a top-class player, you’ll still have to work twice as hard.

“He has this mentality and also does some work out of the club. Among other things, we pay special attention to his diet, For example, he used to have Toddynho [a popular ready-to-drink chocolate milk in Brazil] at breakfast and no longer does. He already has a fat percentage of a professional athlete.”

No-one doubts Endrick is Brazil’s next big thing – he has featured on the front page of Spanish newspaper Marca three times in a matter of weeks amid speculation linking him with Barca and Real Madrid.

When it comes to him, there seems to be only one concern among international scouts – his 5ft 6in (1.73m) stature.

“He doesn’t appear to be a player who will reach 5ft 9in (1.80m) in height, which would be the perfect prototype for a forward if we remember Ronaldo,” added Pena.

“He’ll be a shorter athlete, probably 5ft 7in to 5ft 8in tall. But considering that one of the country’s best strikers of all time was Romario and he was 5ft 4in tall, it’s safe to say he’ll be fine.”

For now, Endrick cannot play senior football or sign his first professional contract in Brazil until he turns 16 in July.

A lot of clubs will be eagerly awaiting that moment, even though Fifa rules mean he would not be able to move to Europe until he turns 18.

It is possible to reach an agreement with another team before that age, though, something Real Madrid did with Vinicius Jr when they announced in 2017 a 45m euro (£37.7m) deal to sign the forward, who joined them the following year.

Reports in Spain even suggest Real Madrid are prepared to match the fee they paid for Vinicius Jr to bring Endrick to Europe.

“There’s nothing much happening right now,” Pena said. “How would we be able to sell a player who can only leave in 2024?

“We’ve never seen someone negotiated two years before he can actually move, but obviously there’s a first time for everything and he can become the first one.”

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