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Why Chelsea want to sign £50m-wonderkid ‘Messinho’

Why Chelsea want to sign £50m-wonderkid 'Messinho'

Palmeiras have done it again. Just over a year after Endrick agreed a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2024 – worth a potential €60 million (£51m/$64m) to the Brazilian club – Estevao Willian is set to become the next prodigious talent to step off the production line when he turns 18 in 2025.

The prototype of the tricky Brazilian winger, the 17-year-old grabbed headlines in a breakout six months that saw him shine throughout the age grades at Palmeiras and on the international stage with Brazil at the Under-17 World Cup.

He has emerged as the latest Brazilian starlet to be coveted by pretty much every elite European club, but it’s looks like Chelsea are set to win the race for yet another young talent. However, dubbed ‘Messinho’ during his time at Cruzeiro, the teenager has his heart set on following in Leo’s footsteps.

Can he live up to the hype? Allow EPRODITY to introduce you to potential star of the future…

Where it all began

It speaks volumes that Estevao was coveted by two of Brazil’s biggest clubs at the age of 14. Born in Franca in the state of Sao Paulo in April 2007, he began his academy life 10 years later with Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte. It was there that he picked up the nickname, ‘Messinho’, or ‘Little Messi’.

Aged just 10, he surpassed both Neymar and Rodrygo to become the youngest-ever Brazilian player to sign with outfitter Nike – a contract he has already extended until 2026.

Four years later, Estevao was at the centre of a furore as he left Cruzeiro in acrimonious circumstances. Having just turned 14, the age at which he could sign his first contract, he was snapped up by Palmeiras, who were subsequently accused of tapping him up by his former club – although the Verdao insisted he was “free on the market” at the time as he was not registered at Cruzeiro, with the youngster’s father, Ivo Goncalves, choosing Palmeiras.

The situation was muddied further by Goncalves facing accusations of falsifying documents, having also been employed by Cruzeiro. That came after Estevao’s name arose in a scandal at the club involving players’ economic rights being sold off to businessmen.

The big break

Despite the commotion around him, Estevao would very much do his talking on the pitch, and Cruzeiro’s loss proved to be Palmeiras’ gain. By the age of 15, he would already be accustomed to hoarding silverware.

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Throughout the 2022 campaign he helped the Verdao’s youth teams to a raft of trophies across different age grades, including the Campeonato Paulista Sub-17, Campeonato Paulista Sub-15, Copa do Brasil Sub-17 and Campeonato Brasileiro Sub-17.

It was in the latter competition that he truly seized the spotlight one year on, as Palmeiras retained their title; a 16-year-old Estevao would bag a hat-trick in the final against rivals Sao Paulo, scoring every goal in a 3-0 triumph. For the first, he drove from midfield and unleashed a low drive into the bottom corner, before making it a brace with a smart finish inside the box late on. His third came in stoppage-time from the penalty spot.

How it’s going

Aged 16 years and eight months, Estevao became the Verdao’s fourth-youngest-ever player as he emerged from the bench to make his senior debut in December 2023. As if to rub salt in the wounds, that came in the 1-1 draw with his former club Cruzeiro – a result that secured the league title for Abel Ferreira’s side on the final day of the Brazilian Serie A season.

He now seems primed for a breakthrough year in 2024 having been integrated into the first-team setup, scoring in consecutive games at the start of May after getting off the mark in senior football on his Copa Libertadores debut in April.

The head of Palmeiras’ youth setup, Joao Paulo Sampaio, is convinced that Estevao is destined for success. “One thing these kinds of players have is a strong personality, a big ego to say: ‘I am, I can and I will’. And they do it,” Sampaio told FIFA. “For these out-of-this-world talents, things come easy. It’s difficult for your average player, who make up the vast majority.”

As for that old nickname ‘Messinho’, the attacker wants to leave it in the past and forge his own path. “He prefers Estevao,” said Sampaio. “The Messinho thing was put on hold, but his game is very similar to that of the Argentine.”

At international level, the teenager made his debut for the Under-17 side at the U17 World Cup in Indonesia in 2023. He starred at the tournament, scoring three goals and providing as many assists. However, Brazil’s dreams were ended in the quarter-finals by arch rivals Argentina and a hat-trick from fellow prodigy Claudio Echeverri.

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Biggest strengths

The archetype of the tricky Brazilian winger, it will come as little surprise to read that Estevao’s biggest asset is his dribbling ability. Although any comparison to the great Messi is generally lazy and misguided, it is not difficult to understand why some have made that contrast when you see ‘Messinho’ in full flight. They share that knack of gliding past defenders as though they aren’t there, with the ball glued to their feet.

Speaking to AS, Sampaio said: “The controls he makes are incredible and his speed with the ball is amazing. The Palmeiras photographer took a sequence of 100 photos of him running with the ball and in all of them he came out with the ball stuck to his left foot.”

Of course, dazzling footwork and an array of tricks lend themselves to Estevao’s style of play, although he is more than capable of relying on a simple body feint to buy himself space.

Two-footedness is something he has been working on, too, but as Sampaio has noted, “his left is already something special”. Indeed, he scored two of his hat-trick goals against Sao Paulo with his right before taking and scoring a spot-kick with his left.

Room for improvement

Estevao’s diminutive, 5’6 frame means he is arguably not yet prepared for the rigours of a regular starting place in the Palmeiras first team, nor indeed a move to Europe, but youth coach Sampaio knows that is the next priority. “[The next step is] to improve his physique, but this is also a question of time and maturity,” he said.

Asked to compare Estevao to Real Madrid-bound team-mate Endrick and another young colleague in Luis Guilherme, Sampaio added: “Estevao has more technical talent than them, but he has not yet matured physically. He is a year younger and genetically still does not have the physical build of the other two, but he is a super phenomenon.”

The next… Angel Di Maria?

Although he has long been dubbed ‘the Brazilian Messi’, a more appropriate comparison might be to the Argentine icon’s long-time international team-mate, Angel Di Maria. Both share exceptional ball-carrying ability and wand-like left feet, as well as an extensive repertoire of tricks, and both thrive by coming inside from the flank and wreaking havoc in the central areas.

Estevao has already shown an aptitude for dribbling with the ball at pace and maintaining his balance to unleash a powerful shot on goal – something Di Maria became renowned for in his heyday.

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Even Estevao’s own description of his playing style seems familiar: “I can play on the right, but I feel more comfortable floating in the middle, so I am closer to the area, I can turn left, right and it is the place where I feel freer when playing,” he told Mundo Deportivo.

The Brazilian may aspire to emulate Messi, but if he comes anywhere close to matching Di Maria’s exploits, he will have enjoyed an outstanding career.

What comes next?

Although Estevao can’t leave Brazil until he turns 18 in April 2025, he is already close to agreeing a transfer away before then – just like team-mate Endrick. Europe’s elite clubs are queuing up to sign the latest jewel to emerge at Palmeiras, with Arsenal, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich all credited with an interest – but it is Chelsea who are currently the frontrunners.

As EPRODITY reported in January, the Blues are trying to negotiate a deal for less than his £39 million ($49m) release clause but including significant add-ons. The London club’s latest offer is an initial £30m ($38m) with £21.5m ($27m) in bonuses, and they are believed to have found an agreement with the player on personal terms.

However, Chelsea is not his ideal club in Europe. Asked his footballing dream in October 2023, the teenager said: “To play for Barcelona, which is one of the best clubs in the world. I was born watching Neymar, Messi, and [Luis] Suarez play for Barcelona and that’s the dream I have.

“I watch almost every Barca match, I’m a fan of the club. I have great admiration for the players who play there and I hope to be there too.” Asked if he would like to play at the new Camp Nou once he turns 18, Estevao said: “Yes, it would be a dream come true.”

Given their financial predicament, the Blaugrana aren’t even in the transfer picture at the moment. Instead, EPRODITY understands it is Bayern who have made a late play to sign the winger, having contacted the player as they formalise their own bid.

Estevao’s father also visited a number of elite European clubs, including City, Chelsea and PSG, in October 2023. Wherever he ends up, though, Sampaio is convinced he will succeed. “We will see where Estevao goes,” he said. “We will look for the best for Palmeiras and for the player, but I am sure he is a player who will enchant the world.”

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