Not many 16-year-olds were watching the recently concluded World Cup with a realistic hope of being a major player in the next edition. But Endrick, signed earlier this month by Real Madrid, is not any 16-year-old. His first step on the road to possibly playing at the 2026 World Cup for Brazil is the upcoming South American under-20 championships, to be staged in Colombia over January and February. It might seem strange for him to be taking part in an under-20 competition — there is an under-17 tournament later in the year for which Endrick would also be eligible. But for the Palmeiras youngster, this is nothing new.
Sources told ESPN that the teenager will join Madrid on an initial three-year contract with the option of a three-year extension, for a transfer fee worth a total of €72 million including variables and taxes. A whirlwind development from a year ago, when at just 15 he was pitched into the highly prestigious Sao Paulo Junior Cup, a competition where some of the players had already turned 20.
Endrick went into the action barely a household name in his own home. By the end he was a global internet sensation. Palmeiras won the trophy for the first time, and the quality and variety of Endrick’s goals — an overhead kick from outside the box, if you please — marked him out as a youngster of astonishing promise. He might even be the best youngster South American football has thrown up since Neymar or (whisper it) since Lionel Messi.
But it is hard for anything to be whispered in the echo chamber of contemporary social media. Messi was amazing when he emerged in the South American under-20 championships — also in Colombia — at the start of 2005. But the planetary hype machine was much less developed at the time. These days there is no hiding space. How to shield Endrick from expectations that would overwhelm an ordinary mortal? Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira played it well. There was pressure on Ferreira to take Endrick to the Club World Cup earlier this year. The coach resisted and said that the youngster would be better served by a trip to Disneyland.
During the year, Ferreira observed his prodigy, weighed up the way that Endrick was coping with his global fame, gently introduced him to the senior squad, and toward the end of the season, with the league title all but assured, unleashed him in the first team. And Endrick did not disappoint. He gave a succession of cameos that hinted at greatness. He is a diminutive left-footed striker. It is striking, then, that his debut goal came from a header. As well as dazzling individual skill and audacity, he has an understanding of space that allowed him to attack the penalty area and guide a running header past the keeper. It is precisely the range of his talent that makes him so interesting.
He can do the flashy, and he can do the basic — dribble, combine, finish first time, move into space. More than ever now, his game is going to come under the microscope. Opponents will be probing for weaknesses. But he looks frighteningly complete. Well before his first-team debut, Endrick was already appearing on the front cover of the Spanish sports dailies. The reality of the global market applies. His remaining time with Palmeiras is now likely a year-and-a-half — and counting. FIFA regulations forbid him from moving abroad until he turns 18. That day will come in July 2024, at which time everything is set for him to join Real Madrid.
Endrick has been top of the wish list for almost all the major European clubs. But Real Madrid always had a head start over Chelsea, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. They counted on his personal preference — in part perhaps a consequence of the Spanish club’s boldness in spending big on Vinicius Junior even before the winger had made his first-team debut with Flamengo. What seemed reckless at the time has since proved a masterstroke. Vinicius has proved a smash success — winning Real the last Champions League — and this has surely made the club more appealing in the eyes of Endrick.
Brazil fans will get to see him in the yellow shirt of the senior national team down the road. Until then, rival defenders in the South American under-20 championships will be out to show that that the youngster can be contained and that the hype is not justified. All part of the game, and part of the challenge that Endrick now has in front of him. The bar of expectation has been set very high. Can he jump over it?