Echeverri is the latest in the line of Argentinian starlets to be compared to Lionel Messi. PHOTO: River Plate - Twitter

Echeverri is the latest in the line of Argentinian starlets to be compared to Lionel Messi. PHOTO: River Plate - Twitter

With the European transfer window swinging open on New Year’s Day, the next few weeks will undoubtedly see rumours and speculation galore, with the world’s hottest prospects being touted to Europe’s biggest clubs.

One such story doing the rounds is Manchester City’s pursuit of the latest Argentinian wonderkid, Claudio Echeverri, who according to one trusted source is set to put pen to paper on a 6-year deal to join the European Champions.

And while at the time of writing the deal had yet to be confirmed by either City or Echeverri’s current club River Plate, it seems only a matter of time before the young attacking midfielder is snapped up.

But who is this latest wonderkid, and why the fuss?

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“He’s a difference maker”

Echeverri, who turned 18 last Tuesday, is seen as one of the next big hopes in Argentinian football.

Born in the provincial city of Resistencia in the north-east of the country, the attacking midfielder trialled with Buenos Aries super-club River Plate at the age of 10 and joined Los Millonarios the following year.

Fast forward to October 2022 and a sixteen-year-old Claudio scored on his debut for River’s reserve team, making his first team debut in August of this year.

Yet it was his exploits at the recent FIFA Under 17 World Cup that catapulted Echeverri to global recognition.

Captaining his side to 4th place and scoring 5 goals in 6 games (including a quarter final hat-trick against arch rivals Brazil) set tongues wagging, with even Barcelona manager Xavi sharing his opinion.

“The boy [Echeverri] is a talent. Beyond the hat-trick he scored against Brazil, he’s a difference-maker, but it’s something for the scouting department,” commented the Catalan boss when asked about whether the young starlet was the next Messi.

Echeverri’s 3 goals v Brazil in U17 World Cup raised his profile

An unfair comparison?

It’s perhaps not surprising that Echeverri is already being compared with the former Barcelona great, given he wears the same number 10 shirt for his country that the Argentinian captain has made famous in recent years, as well as playing in an advanced attacking position behind the main striker.

However, we’ve been down this road before, and the list of attack minded Argentinians who have been heralded as the next superstar is a long one.

Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega and Javier Saviola were all touted as the next great hope for their country, yet none quite scaled the heights of expectation surrounding them at the time.

A better comparison in recent years, especially if a move to Manchester does eventuate, may be Julian Alvarez, who joined City from River Plate in January 2022.

Alvarez was immediately loaned back to the Argentinian club until July of that year, before being slowly introduced to City’s first team during the 22/23 season.

It’s surely no coincidence that City are planning to do exactly the same with Echeverri, with reports suggesting the 18-year-old will remain with his Argentinian club side until the end of 2024, albeit on loan from the Manchester giants.  

Having the example of Alvarez to point to may also help City clinch the signing of this latest starlet, especially with Chelsea, Paris-St Germain and the aforementioned Barcelona also in the hunt for his signature.

A controversial move

While European fans may have to wait to see the new starlet in action on their shores, Echeverri’s proposed move has already caused controversy in his home country.

Having just helped River Plate to the Trofeo de Campeones title in December, the then 17-year-old proceeded to announce in a post-match interview that he would not renew his contract with the club, which expires on 31 December 2024.

This move effectively signalled to the world he was available, hence the rush for his signature in recent weeks.

Even more controversially, River Plate have made it clear in recent days that they believed they had a verbal agreement with the player’s Italy-born agent Enzo Montepaone for Echeverri to sign a contract extension that would double his release clause to £43.5million (A$81million).

However, River failed to get the contract signed before the youngster played a starring role for Argentina at the Under-17 World Cup meaning the existing release clause of £22 million (A$41m) will be the price paid for his services, for whoever seals the deal. Still a hefty fee for a teenager, but an expensive mistake nonetheless.

Whatever the outcome – which seems certain to conclude before the end of the transfer window on 31st January – the 18-year-old nicknamed El Diablito (Spanish for Little Devil) due his devilish dribbling and pace in one-on-one situations, seems certain to be making headlines this year.

Whether he can live up to the hype and become a worthy heir to Messi’s throne is another thing entirely.

We may have to wait a few more years to find out.

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