It’s summer 2017 and a shy boy, 11 years old, is talking on camera. The conversation goes as follows.
“What’s the first goal?”
“Reaching the first team.”
“And the second goal?”
“Playing well in the first team.”
“In the first year, right?”
“And in the second year in the first team?”
“Winning the Libertadores (South America’s equivalent of the Champions League).”
“Joining Real (Madrid).”
The youngster wears the shirt of Brazilian club Palmeiras. The video was filmed by a kitman friendly with the player’s father, then working as a cleaner at the Sao Paulo-based side.
The child is Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa — more commonly known as Endrick — and last month he would achieve his goal from five years ago by agreeing a move to Real Madrid. While he won’t actually join the Spanish giants until he turns 18 in the summer of 2024, much is already expected of him as the latest in a long line of talented Brazilian youngsters.
It all started in October 2021.
That was when Endrick began to score goals and provide assists for Palmeiras’ under-17s and under-20s sides. With the forward already producing impressive performances in youth football, his agents decided to send videos of his skills to all the top European clubs — Barcelona, AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain… and, of course, Real Madrid.
Then, in the December, Endrick produced a moment of magic which showed why observers were right to be so excited by the teenager. That was when he scored a goal from the halfway line in the Paulistao Under-17 tournament final — a more-successful replica of the legendary goal Pele tried but failed to score for Brazil against Czechoslovakia at the 1970 World Cup.
Scouts from a host of interested clubs acted quickly, telling Endrick’s agency they would be watching him the following month at the Copinha, the Under-21 Copa Sao Paulo widely recognised as the country’s most prestigious youth tournament. Neymar, Casemiro, Marquinhos, Gabriel Jesus and Vinicius Junior are just some of the talents who have been discovered while playing in the competition.
Endrick did not disappoint. He scored six goals in seven matches at an average of one every 49 minutes — including in the final against Santos. With all eyes on him, Endrick helped Palmeiras lift the trophy and took home the most valuable player award, as voted for by the fans.
Juni Calafat, Real Madrid’s chief scout who led the operation to sign Endrick, had already put them in a strong position by visiting the player’s family in Sao Paulo.
Real forward Vinicius Jr, with whom Endrick shares representation at TFM Agency, did his part too, sending the teenager a signed T-shirt in the summer of 2021. The Brazil international followed up with a Real shirt for Endrick’s then-two-year-old brother, Noah.
Clubs were not the only ones making moves. Endrick has a contract with Nike expiring this year — which he has yet to renew — while other sponsors in the world of health, betting and technology sat up and took notice of the youngster’s growing profile.
By this time last year, teams including Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, plus some in Portugal, had dropped their interest in Endrick, accepting that he was not looking for such a stepping-stone move on his way to the game’s elite.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain were all interested. Aside from the scouts, major executives from those clubs now appeared on the scene. There were several meetings with Endrick’s family in Sao Paulo as the various European giants tried to move ahead in the race to sign him.
What about Palmeiras? His club were sure they would feel the benefits of a big move for Endrick, so let his representatives hold talks with his suitors. Endrick’s release clause had been set at 100million Brazilian reals (around £15.7m/$19.1m today). The amount would increase significantly when he was awarded his first professional contract.
Palmeiras would have to wait until Endrick turned 16 on July 21 2021 to give him his first pro deal, and other clubs would need to be patient too. Real Madrid have now signed him, but FIFA rules mean he will have to wait until he turns 18 next year to move to Europe.
The operation was similar to the one that brought Vinicius Jr to the same club from Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo in the summer of 2018 (the deal had been agreed a year earlier).
As in that case, Calafat laid the groundwork for the transfer with those close to Endrick. He watched at least three of his games in Brazil — one in the Copinha and two for Palmeiras’ first team — while his staff attended matches too. At the same time, Real Madrid’s board showed they would be as respectful as possible to Palmeiras, having paid €45million (£39.6m today) for Vinicius’ transfer from Flamengo despite his release clause having been set at €30million.
Calafat knew that family would be a crucial factor in the deal.
Endrick’s father, Douglas, tried to become a professional footballer himself but didn’t make it. While he was pursuing his dream in the nation’s capital, Brasilia, his wife Cintia moved to Sao Paulo with Endrick in 2017. Douglas sent her money to look after Endrick, but she was only able to buy ready meals for their son.
Douglas moved to Sao Paulo himself six months later. He and Cintia would prepare coffee and cakes at 4.30am every day to try to sell to commuters at a station on the city’s underground network but money was still tight — until Palmeiras stepped in, as their youth teams director Joao Paulo Sampaio explained to The Athletic.
“The first time I saw him was in a video in 2016, playing with Sao Paulo, (when he was) 10 years old,” he says. “I spoke to his agent to tell him I wanted the kid and that I could give his father a job and a flat to his family. That’s how he came to Palmeiras.”
Endrick atuando pelo São Paulo na GO Cup, em 2016:pic.twitter.com/1mJ6dyfeJC
— SPFC Info (@spfcinfoss) December 16, 2022
Endrick’s family are deeply religious and united in their faith. With Douglas working as a cleaner at the club, their situation improved as their boy flourished.
Douglas kept returning to a promise his son had made him in Brasilia. When Endrick had asked for some food and Douglas had answered that there was nothing to eat, the boy assured him he would become a professional player and earn enough money to give them a better life.
Real Madrid were almost always in pole position to sign Endrick.
The player had been impressed by the success of other Brazilians at the reigning European champions — he was regularly in touch with Vinicius Jr on Instagram, while Rodrygo and Eder Militao also spoke to him to try to convince him to join them in the Spanish capital.
It also helped that one of Endrick’s idols, along with Vinicius Jr, was long-time Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo — even if the teenager’s team-mates had poked fun at him by saying that the prolific Portuguese was just a robot and that Lionel Messi and Neymar were much better players than him.
There were two stumbling blocks, however.
If Real Madrid were to sign one or both of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland from PSG and Dortmund respectively, Endrick would not go there as the Bernabeu front line would already be full of high-profile stars. Club president Florentino Perez also preferred to wait to see how Endrick’s talent developed and was fearful of FIFA regulations around signing players under 18 years old.
Last spring, Madrid’s attention turned fully to winning the Champions League and La Liga. Barcelona’s financial problems were mounting and Chelsea were in the process of changing owners after UK government-imposed sanctions on Roman Abramovich related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
PSG’s Brazilian sporting director Leonardo, meanwhile, was in an uncertain position after the side’s embarrassing Champions League elimination by Madrid having led 2-0 on aggregate with an hour played in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
The talk around Endrick’s future died down after several visits around Europe.
He went to Camp Nou in February for Barcelona’s Europa League play-off with Napoli, was in Paris that same week for the first leg of the PSG vs Madrid Champions League round-of-16 tie and also visited Munich and London. But the most significant trip was to the Spanish capital.
Endrick got to meet legendary former Madrid and Brazil striker Ronaldo Nazario, who also introduced him to the club’s current manager, Carlo Ancelotti. They spoke about Alexandre Pato, a Brazilian forward who had joined AC Milan at just 17 years old in 2007, when Ancelotti was in charge.
The charismatic Italian coach told Endrick he should join him at Real, as they are the biggest club in world football.
Among all the fuss, Endrick stayed focused. In April, he played for Brazil Under-17s side at the Montaigu Tournament in France — where Calafat was also present — scoring five goals and providing two assists in four matches. He scored a goal and won a penalty in the final as they beat Argentina 2-1, and finished as the tournament’s top scorer and most valuable player.
Palmeiras did not want to wait any longer for Endrick to sign his first professional deal. A pre-contract was signed, before he put pen to paper officially in July.
News leaked out that Endrick’s release clause had been set at €60million, but in reality that amount depended on several variables. This is why he would not leave for that fee.
Palmeiras and Endrick’s agents agreed he would be sold for a lower price, with discussions always centred around a fixed price of €30million plus variables.
In October, the process picked up speed. Endrick made his first-team debut with Palmeiras, playing 21 minutes of a league game at home to Coritiba. He then faced Sao Paulo (28 minutes), Avai (12, registering an assist), Athletico Paranaense (45, scoring twice) and Fortaleza (75 in his first start, scoring another goal). The first goal of that brace against Athletico Paranaense made him the second-youngest scorer in the history of the Brazilian top flight.
Despite rumours suggesting otherwise, the plan was to wait until the end of the Brazilian domestic season in early November and then, with the title hopefully on his CV (which turned out to be the case), begin the decisive stage of negotiations.
Chelsea were in with a chance of signing Endrick, having welcomed the teenager’s parents last October, while the forward was also studying English. But Real’s main rivals were PSG, who pushed hard. As part of one of their offers, they asked Palmeiras for first refusal on 16-year-old midfielder Luis Guilherme — another of the Brazilian side’s most promising prospects.
Meanwhile, Barcelona boss Xavi tried to keep his club in the race by speaking with the player directly, as the former Spain and Barcelona midfielder revealed to ESPN during the recent World Cup.
There was no chance of any of those sides beating Real Madrid, however, as Endrick’s heart had always been set on them — just as that video from 2017 suggests.
Calafat had everything ready and was just waiting for the green light from president Perez. That happened during the World Cup as the two clubs reached an agreement. Ronaldo had publicly called on Brazil coach Tite to include Endrick in his squad for that tournament after meeting the youngster in Madrid and urging him to sign for Real — one of his former clubs.
There was just one bureaucratic hurdle to be cleared before the official signing was announced on December 15.
When the data for Endrick’s signing was entered into FIFA’s Transfer Matching System, the platform showed an error message. Real and TFM Agency had doubts as to whether the transfer would be finalised because of this, but it was swiftly ironed out.
Endrick has committed to Real Madrid for three years — the maximum allowed for his age under FIFA regulations — starting in 2024.
Contrary to the route taken with previous youth prospects Madrid have signed, such as Japan’s Takefusa Kubo or fellow Brazilian Reinier Jesus, the idea is for Endrick to join the first team without having played for their youth side, Real Madrid Castilla, or going on loan elsewhere.
A gentlemen’s agreement was also reached between all parties to keep Endrick at the Bernabeu until 2030, once legislation makes that possible.
Madrid will pay a fixed price of €35million plus another €25m in achievable variables, which vary in difficulty and relate to Endrick’s development both while still in Brazil and after moving to Europe. They would pay a maximum of €60million for him if these are all satisfied.
It has been rumoured that Endrick will start with a salary of €2million per season, although sources with knowledge of the negotiations, who need to keep their anonymity to protect their positions, have told The Athletic the wages will be higher than that but refused to give specific figures.
Endrick’s salary will increase during his time at Madrid, while there are several bonuses included in the contract for reaching various performance goals. The club also negotiated a 50 per cent split on Endrick’s image rights, which is expected to be very good news for them given his potential impact with sponsors.
Madrid’s latest signing celebrated the fulfilment of his dream by enjoying the Christmas holidays with his family — and Vinicius Jr. He also took part in the Jogo das Estrelas at the Maracana — a traditional charity match which has been organised by Brazil legend Zico since 2004. It was Endrick’s first experience of the iconic stadium in Rio.
“It was incredible and exciting, because he is from a team from Sao Paulo and almost 100 per cent of the fans in the stadium were Flamengo fans (from Rio), yet he was treated incredibly well,” a source close to Endrick, who was present at the stadium but who asked to remain anonymous to protect his position, tells The Athletic.
TFM Agency will now try to replicate the same roadmap they followed with Vinicius Jr while looking to make improvements based on the 22-year-old’s experiences at the Bernabeu. It will expand its staff — Vinicius Jr has a team of 15 people working exclusively for him — to provide Endrick with the necessary resources to develop his potential before, during and after his arrival in Madrid.
When Endrick finally moves to Spain in 18 months’ time, he will do so with his family and most likely some of his friends too.
His preparation for the move will be closely monitored in Madrid and Sao Paulo, as always, by Calafat.
(Main graphic — photo: Getty Images/design: Sam Richardson)
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