While most 11-year-olds are navigating the daunting prospect of secondary school, Claudio Echeverri was dealing with the aftermath of becoming a viral sensation.
On the radar of scouts and social media since scoring four goals against Juventus for River Plate’s youth team, Echeverri has been thrust back into the spotlight by his performances at the under-17 World Cup for Argentina.
El Diablito (the little devil) – a nickname earned simply because his surname is similar to former Bolivian forward Marco Etcheverry, who went by El Diablo – is on the radar of clubs from across Europe’s elite.
Here’s everything you need to know about River Plate’s attacking midfielder who has already packed a lot into his nascent career.
As an 11-year-old, Echeverri only joined River Plate on the condition that his parents had a flat in Buenos Aires rented for them by the club. River’s academy director Claudio Brizuela recalled the literal standoff: “We were standing in front of the Monumental, and Echeverri said to me: ‘I am a River fan, and I love it here, but if my mother isn’t joining me, then I will head back to Chaco.'”
Not everyone is a fan of Echeverri’s hard bargaining. “He has to secure his own future, not ours,” his father has fretted.
The weight of expectation is already taking its toll on the teenager. “I’d talk to my family and I’d sometimes feel under a lot of pressure,” Echeverri, who employs a psychologist, revealed. “I get stressed or tired and I have to try and live with that, which is a lot.”
Practically unknown even within River’s academy six months earlier, Echeverri’s name was plastered all over the internet when he scored four goals (and set up another one) as an 11-year-old against Juventus.
The ball comes up to everyone’s knee and most of the players are fighting with their billowing kit as much as each other but it’s evident from the array of accomplished finishes that Echeverri is a cut above the other tweens on the pitch. That he would remain head and shoulders above his peers throughout adolescence was no guarantee.
At the under-17 South American championships in April 2023, Echeverri continued to run rings around the best teenagers from across the continent, captaining Argentina while directly contributing to eight goals in as many appearances.
River had already tied Echeverri down to a first-team contract before the tournament and he was duly given his top-flight debut by Martin Demichelis in June. Handed a standing ovation by the Monumental crowd, Echeverri justified his spine-tingling reception with an assist for Lucas Beltran in a 3-1 win.
Echeverri was part of a handful of youngsters given the chance to train alongside Argentina’s world champions before embarking upon the under-17 edition of the global competition in November. Angel Di Maria was quick to give his seal of approval. “You can see he’s got some fire in him. He’s got a lot to give,” the veteran forward noted.
Di Maria added: “We’ve already been seeing it. It’s nice that the coaching staff gives these types of opportunities to the little ones to be able to enjoy with the older ones in this beautiful moment that we are living in.”
Echeverri’s hat-trick against Brazil in the quarter-finals of the under-17 World Cup sparked a torrent of hype to rival the fallout from his four-goal haul against Juve’s kids. By rounding Brazil’s goalkeeper to complete his treble, Echeverri inadvertently recreated one of Lionel Messi’s finishes against Brazil, prompting predictable and tiresome calls for the ‘new Messi’.
However, unlike the old Messi’s recent record in major international tournaments, Echeverri’s ended the competition on a low.
With just seconds remaining, Echeverri slipped Agustin Ruberto into the box to net a 97th-minute equaliser against Germany in the semi-finals. But the teenager had his penalty saved in the subsequent shootout which Argentina lost.
Two days after that defeat, Echeverri revealed that his grandmother had passed away.
Echeverri may play with the grace of a veteran but he still has the body of a teenager. “Nobody doubts Claudio’s technical abilities and his intelligence that allows him to solve all sorts of difficult situations,” Demichelis warned of a player who has only made four senior appearances.
“But from a physical standpoint, the first phase was very difficult for him. When I joined River, I knew Echeverri was a diamond in the rough to be cut and polished.”
Echeverri turns 18 in January, allowing him to move overseas in the upcoming winter window and is only under contract until the end of 2024. The vultures are circling.
In December, Barcelona manager Xavi gushed: “The boy is a talent. Beyond the hat-trick he scored against Brazil, he’s a difference-maker, but it’s something for the scouting department [to deal with].”
From a romantic point of view, Barcelona are well placed to land the teenager. “As well as River, I would like to play for Barca,” Echeverri revealed in November. “I am a big Messi fan and I watched him play there, so they are a team I have followed since I was very young.”
However, the financial muscle of the Premier League may ultimately decide Echeverri’s future. As 90min reported at the start of December, Chelsea and Manchester City have shown strong interest in Echeverri along with his River Plate teammates Ruberto and Ian Subiabre.
Brighton, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have also been keeping tabs on Echeverri while the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter are casting admiring glances from continental Europe.
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