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Kendry Paez: the Chelsea Wonderkid Who Became the Youngest South American to Score in a World

At 16 years and 161 days old, he became the youngest ever South American to score in a World Cup qualifier when he netted Ecuador’s opener in a 2-1 victory away to Bolivia on Thursday.

The teenager produced a composed finish after being set up by Moises Caicedo. It has echoes of Michael Owen being sent through on goal by David Beckham in Saint-Etienne against Argentina at France ’98. Of Owen sending Wayne Rooney free of Croatia’s last defender in Lisbon at Euro 2004.

Can he finish? You bet he can. Taking to social media afterwards, Paez wrote: “I am living unforgettable moments.”

The boy dubbed the new “jewel” of Ecuador is already the youngest appearance-maker and goalscorer in his country’s top flight, scoring on his debut aged just 15. He captained Ecuador to the final of the South American U17 Championship this year and holds the record for being the youngest ever to score at the FIFA U20 World Cup.

Paez is already breaking records, oozing class and potential, but he cannot make his Blues debut for at least another 19 months.

Under current FIFA rules brought into force in January 2021 following the UK’s exit from the EU, Premier League clubs are not be able to sign players from overseas until they turn 18. The earliest Paez could make his first Chelsea appearance is May 2025.

Chelsea reached an agreement to sign Paez from Independiente del Valle back in June for €20m (£17.27m).

The forward, who turned 16 last May, will move to Stamford Bridge after his 18th birthday – meaning he will likely join the Blues in the summer of 2025.

Born in Ecuador’s second city Guayaquil in 2007, Paez joined Independiente del Valle’s academy in Sangolqui aged 11 on the outskirts of the capital Quito, some 160 miles to the north.

The relocation was a huge sacrifice which has helped shape his character from such a young age, a steeliness that alongside his talent he hopes will take him to the pinnacle of the sport.

Gonzalo Plata, at 22, is six years older, but the player views his compatriot as having inspired his career having also hailed from the same city and played for Independiente before making his move to Al Sadd in Qatar.

Paez is now considered among the brightest talents in South America – yet he is happy to still be developing in Ecuador’s top flight this season.

In an interview with ESPN in June, Paez said he has blocked out his move to Stamford Bridge until his 18th birthday.

“I don’t feel pressure, I am focused on Independiente, on the Libertadores and on playing in the best way.

“To get there, I have to keep working, be focused on studying. It will be something special to share things with players like Enzo [Fernandez], with other special ones.

“It’s wonderful, but now I’m focused on Independiente Del Valle. There are two years to go, I know it goes by quickly and I’ll keep doing my thing here.

“I’m Kendry, I’m going to give the name to Ecuador. I’m going to continue being me, I don’t want to be compared to Messi.

“He’s very special, he’s the best. I’m 16 years old, they cannot compare me with him, because I’m in a process. I have things to improve and gain a lot of experience. Later, with time, perhaps with what I win, maybe as Kendry Paez, the Ecuadorian. It’s me and no one else.”

What is the feeling back home?

Paez will move to the Premier League on his 18th birthday

Paez has been causing ripples for some time in Ecuador, a country that isn’t renowned for producing world-class talent. Naturally, that perception is already changing with the emergence of Moises Caicedo and his subsequent sale from Brighton to Chelsea for a British-record fee of £115m.

That has only heightened the weight on Paez’s shoulders to become the next hottest property.

It was in back-to-back youth tournaments in the summer of 2022 that he made himself known to the world. First in July, Paez starred as Independiente’s U18s won the Copa Milo.

Scouts from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund witnessed him score twice in the final against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional.

Not content, he was then awarded the outstanding player at the 2022 Next Generation Trophy in Salzburg, where Independiente’s U15s defeated youth sides from Inter Milan and RB Leipzig before suffering defeat in the final.

Paez demonstrated his natural ability with one stunning lob from the halfway line.

In February of this year, he made his senior debut for Independiente, becoming the youngest debutant and scorer in the Ecuadorian top flight. A first appearance in the Copa Libertadores – a victory over Corinthians – followed in May.

Paez was named MVP at the 2022 Next Generation Trophy

And so, when he made his senior international debut for La Tricolor against Uruguay on September 12, it felt a long time coming despite being aged just 16 years and 131 days.

Indeed, Paez was just days off snatching a longstanding record from Argentina legend Diego Maradona. Unsurprisingly, he made the most of his 70 minutes on the pitch, providing the assist for Felix Torres’ match-winning goal in a 2-1 triumph.

Where does he play?

Paez celebrates after scoring against Bolivia

Paez tends to operate on the right side of an attacking trio, but he can also play off a striker. He is left-footed and able to play off either shoulder. The swagger and style associated with South American footballers is evident but Paez manages to often look casual without ever being absent.

His willingness to take control and accept responsibility belies his tender years.

What is encouraging for Chelsea fans is there already appears to be a relationship blossoming with Caicedo, who provided the assist for Paez’s milestone international goal.

Chelsea currently have the likes of Raheem Sterling, Noni Madueke and Mykhaylo Mudryk in wide areas, but Paez will relish the competition and learning from those who have spent their careers plying their trade in Europe and the Premier League.

A fearless dribbler with the nickname ‘Di Maria’ at Independiente due to his similar playing style, Chelsea saw off competition from Dortmund and Man Utd to complete his signature. The switch aligns with the club’s recent transfer policy of signing the best young talents in world football.

He became the youngest ever scorer at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup

After scoring the opener with a brilliant free-kick for Independiente in a 2-0 win over Gualaceo before the international break, his manager Martin Anselmi said: “Since everyone talks about Kendry Paez, the main task for us as a coaching staff and his team-mates is to take care of him.

“The main thing you have to do is maintain balance, train better and better, train for your future, which is going to be very important. It will take him to other limits.

“The first thing to do is keep him away from what everyone is talking about because all that noise that can be around will always be harmful, whether they speak well or badly.”

But if Paez continues to take the international stage by storm, the noise is only going to get louder.

Source: Sky Sports