How will Estêvão, dubbed ‘Messinho,’ fit in at Chelsea?

Abel Ferreira, the Portuguese coach of Brazilian champions Palmeiras, made a spirited appeal in May to his own club president. “Don’t sell this player!” he pleaded after 17-year-old Estêvão had just scored the decisive goal in a cup match. “His father, his agent and he might be sad, but let him stay with us until 2027. I really think this player is different from anything I’ve ever seen.”

Ferreira is also the coach of striker Endrick, a player who is just a few months older but was decisive in last year’s Brazilian league win, who scored the only goal when Brazil‘s senior team beat England at Wembley and added another cracker a few days later against Spain in March, and is set to join Real Madrid this summer for €72 million.

It says something that Endrick’s coach rates Estêvão as “different from anything I’ve ever seen.” This really is high praise. But, as he knew when he was saying it, the plea for Estêvão to stay was never going to be heard.

The youngster has signed for Chelsea for an initial €34m, which could rise to €67m with add-ons. At least Ferreira will keep him for another year as, due to FIFA rules, young players are unable to make such moves until they are 18, a landmark that Estêvão reaches next April. And, as a condition of the deal, Palmeiras will have him for the inaugural version of the expanded FIFA Club World Cup in June and July 2025.

After that, though, he will be on his way across the Atlantic. So what will Chelsea be getting for their money? What has so enchanted them, as well as Ferreira?

A large part is the fluidity of Estêvão’s movement, as he shows wonderful balance and changes of rhythm when running with the ball tied to his left foot. At his first club, Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte, he was handed the nickname “Messinho” — little Messi. It is not an exact fit, but there is something there. Both are extraordinarily talented, but neither are circus performers, doing elaborate tricks far away from the opposing goal.

At 17, Messi had an appreciation of space and of how and where to hurt the rival defence. There is something of this in Estêvão. He is an all-round footballer. As Ferreira says: “He defends and attacks, and he shows up strong in the game. He goes and fails, then goes again and gets it right. Whether it works out for him or not, he doesn’t hide.”

Palmeiras have used him wide on the right, from where he has been happy to track back and help out his full-back. But he comes into his own when his team has the ball, as his fluid individual ability, capacity to play combination passes at pace and a nose for picking holes in the opposing defence come to the fore.

All of these attributes were present the first time he was given a place in Palmeiras’ starting XI on April 11, almost two weeks before his 17th birthday. It was a game in the Copa Libertadores against a modest Uruguayan side called Liverpool.

More than a Messi, perhaps, he came across as a left-footed version of Real Madrid’s Rodrygo. Palmeiras had a tough time breaking down their opponents and even went behind. But fought back and the clinching goal in the 3-1 win came from Estêvão — in a manner that no one had imagined. The slightest player on the pitch attacked the space at the far post to meet a cross with a well-guided header.

A star was born. And, come the final whistle, many could imagine him taking on the more famous Liverpool in a Premier League game.

There had long been rumours about him and he signed a contract with a major sportswear manufacturer before he was even a teenager. Estêvão had his moments last November in the Under-17 World Cup but ended up being outgunned by future Manchester City player Claudio Echeverri as Brazil crashed out to Argentina. He was then gently introduced to the first-team squad and made a few substitute appearances. But the way that he took his opportunity to shine against Liverpool was an instant confirmation that this was a player destined to make steady progress on the often uncertain road between promise and reality.

In those few short weeks since April 11, he has already become a household name. Some even wondered if he might make Brazil’s senior squad for this summer’s Copa América. He is, of course, going to have to get used to the attention that comes with such status — not least from opposing defenders — but this is all part of the process of growing up in public and will help him get ready for life at Stamford Bridge.

And after a couple of quiet performances late in May, he has been giving twice weekly masterclasses, undressing defences down the left, occasionally cutting in to shoot with unexpected power, more often going outside and, while travelling at pace, showing extraordinary balance and vision to set up a shot for his teammates.

It is understood that Chelsea are not thinking in terms of loaning Estevao out to gain further experience — one of the reasons that he chose the London club. They imagine him immediately fighting for a place in the first team — along, presumably, with Ecuadorian wonderkid Kendry Paez, who will join them at the same time. Paez, already scoring goals in World Cup qualification, looks like a South American version of Manchester City star Phil Foden.

Estêvão, as we have seen, has something of a left-footed Rodrygo. Fitting them both into the same side might be a challenge for whoever is picking the team. Facing them both will certainly be a challenge for defenders.