Mozart? He composed. Picasso? He drew. Messi? He played. There will never be another Lionel Messi, and there is no point in trying to argue it.
Many have been touted to replicate the Messi Magic – even before the little magician became a household name… but all have failed to imitate it, let alone come close to symmetrising it. Even under a niche of ‘The Next *insert country* Messi’, the bricks always came crumbling down – even for the successful ones who had to create an identity for themselves outside of the tag. Ryo Miyaichi, Bojan, Giovani Dos Santos, Ryan Gauld, Iker Muniain, Yassine Benzia, Martin Odegaard, Ansu Fati… the list goes on.
It’s never been a compliment, but rather a burden to be labelled by this. Yet the names never stop. For all the latest talk of it, a young Argentinian currently plying his trade in South America could very well be the final name to be dubbed the ‘Next Messi’ whilst the Barcelona icon is still an active footballer. But for all the confidence and talent that the young man carries, could Claudio Echeverri be the last and only one to pass the impossible test?
In 2006, Barcelona were running the landscape of European football after beating Arsenal in the Champions League final. Within that squad, South American talent was modestly represented by Rafa Marquez, Ronaldinho, Sylvinho, Deco and a certain Lionel Messi in his early formative years. That same year, Claudio Echeverri was born in Resistencia, within the Chaco province that is situated an 8-and-a-half-hour drive from Messi’s hometown of Rosario.
Fast forward a few years, and Echeverri’s rise to fame would begin. Aged 11, he would go viral playing for River Plate’s youth team in the 2017 Venice Champions Trophy tournament. The Argentinian would sign his first professional contract at 16, and later get his senior debut courtesy of former Manchester City alumni Martin Demichelis.
Echeverri would make his debut against Instituto AC Cordoba and to date, has only managed a handful of games with River Plate at senior level. In the Primera Division, he managed 4 substitute appearances and featured just about enough to collect a league winners’ medal as Demichelis’ side romped to 1st with a a margin of 11 points.
So how is it that a player with such a small sample size at the senior level can garner such hype within the South American contingency? He isn’t quite as superhuman as Messi, that’s for sure. Speaking to the FIFA website a few months ago, Echeverri said: “I’m just a normal guy who likes to play video games, be with my family, spend time with my girlfriend…”
For a young footballer so raw to the senior level and the spotlight, it is quite brave how he used triumphant moments to clarify his future after River Plate’s Champions Trophy victory – much to the annoyance of the fans: “My representative spoke with the president, I am not going to renew [contract] but I am going to stay a year or 6 months.” He certainly got his wish, as Manchester City confirmed his signature for £12.5 million on a 4.5-year deal.
The majority of the spotlight has come from delivering for Argentina in the 2023 U17’s World Cup. ‘El Diablito’ or ‘Little Devil’ as he is also known as, managed an impressive 5 goals and 1 assist in 7 games. En route to captaining his side, he monumentally scored a hat-trick against Brazil in the quarter finals.
Argentina would go on to lose against eventual winners in Germany in the semi finals – with the likes of Paris Brunner playing (and scoring a brace) in that match – but Echeverri would come out of that tournament with all sets of eyes looking at him… most notably from Europe. Most notably, Echeverri’s third goal against Brazil would look eerily similar to Messi’s goal against Brazil:
Lionel Messi vs. Brazil 🤝 Claudio Echeverri vs. Brazilpic.twitter.com/c63H3Tbr0f
— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) November 24, 2023
Despite the label of being the ‘next Messi’, Echeverri’s trajectory is more closer to Julian Alvarez than of Messi. Echeverri will join up with Alvarez in Manchester next year, but will be staying put at River Plate on loan for the remainder of the new season in Argentina. Alvarez’s transfer was arranged in an identical manner with the treble winners.
Echeverri is a versatile player who is able to play in a number of positions on the frontline. His primary position is as an attacking midfielder behind the striker, which begs the question as to whether he is the long term answer to Kevin De Bruyne. He is also very capable of playing on either wing, or as a striker which adds much options for Pep Guardiola’s side and his chances of gradually featuring for the side in 2025.
So whether he is playing second fiddle to Jeremy Doku on the left, Bernardo Silva on the right, Kevin De Bruyne in the middle or Erling Haaland/Julian Alvarez up front, there is plentiful reason for Echeverri to believe that his hard work could warrant game time for an elite City side. Echeverri stands at the height of 5ft 7in, the same height as his football idol Lionel Messi. The low centre of gravity aids Echeverri’s close ball control, which allows him to excel with great ability to play with the pace that he is.
The Argentinian is excellent on the half-turn, using the combination of pace and ball control to get away from defenders. Another key feature of his game is the prominent use of feints, used greatly to switch between either side and adding unpredictability to his game. Releasing the ball is something he can be good at doing, but this sort of playing style does and will make him prone to being tackled heavily by bigger framed men. Seeing how this cumulatively led to the premature end of Eden Hazard’s run at the top level, this is a wary factor to bring to Europe. Nonetheless, being managed carefully by Pep Guardiola will surely control the flamboyant side of the young star.
Another developed element of his game is his vision at such a raw age. It is often common for young players to be rash in their decision making, but Echeverri has shown glimpses of how composed he can be, albeit with much more space afforded to him in the Argentinian game.
Here on the counter, he has successfully taken on the opposition player behind him and is faced with the option of releasing the ball to the striker or taking it into Zone 8 where the opposition are likely to scarper into. Echeverri is confident in holding onto the ball and drawing the defenders to allow his striker a more precise goal scoring opportunity. Such confidence in ball retention during the final third phase is a key asset for what could become a world class attacking midfielder someday.
What the Future Holds for Echeverri
Next up is the South American U23 Championship. The two best countries will represent South America at this summer’s Paris Olympics, which is a great source of pride for the continent. The raucous celebrations of Neymar Jr winning gold for Brazil at the 2016 Summer Olympics is a vivid memory in football’s recent association with the macro-event.
Beyond that, Manchester City fans will be keeping an eye on Echeverri throughout 2024, as the next 12 months could be a telling sign of just how great things are to come for the boy from Resistencia. European football prepares for its next generation of South American wonders à la Endrick, Vitor Roque, Gabriel Moscardo, Kendry Paez, Valentin Barco and more. Whether El Diablito belongs in that category and whether he fulfills his hype is another answer to the questions that European football watchers will follow closely in coming years.
By: Abdullah Mamaniyat / @mxmnyt
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Pakawich Damrongkiattisak – FIFA