Alvarez was 22 when he made the move, an established international who was universally considered the best player in the Argentine top division. Echeverri, however, has barely played in it. He is just turning 18, and his experience with the River Plate senior side is limited to a handful of appearances, mostly off the bench.
Unlike Alvarez, Echeverri is being signed almost entirely on promise rather than achievement. But this is the way that the contemporary transfer market is operating.
The story of Alvarez — a highly promising player having the time to consolidate a career in South America — is becoming increasingly rare. The major European clubs want to get their hands on the continent’s wonderkids as early as possible, although the youngsters are not allowed to move before they are 18, per FIFA rules.
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It speaks volumes that Echeverri is probably only seen as the third-biggest hope of his generation. The other two are even younger, and both already know where they will be heading when they reach 18.
There is Brazil striker Endrick, six months younger than Echeverri and a key figure in the recent Palmeiras domestic league win — so much so that he has made a couple of substitute appearances for the senior Brazil side. Then there is Ecuador‘s Kendry Paez, a full year-and-a-half younger than Echeverri, and a consolidated player in the Independiente del Valle first team who is already scoring and setting up goals in World Cup qualification.
Endrick is bound for Real Madrid and Paez is on his way to Chelsea. Which begs a question: Do Manchester City really want Echeverri, or is this a case of the next taxi off the rank? With so many other big clubs interested in him, are City taking the view that an investment of little more than £20 million is worth making?
Time, of course, will tell. Echeverri’s promise is certainly huge. There has been hype about this player even before he left his native province of Chaco, in the north of Argentina, to go south to Buenos Aires and join River Plate. And the promise was all on show in the recent Under-17 World Cup, where Argentina reached the semifinals — especially in the magnificent hat trick he scored to eliminate Brazil.
For any young and slightly built Argentine attacking midfielder, the label of “the new Messi” is a tiresome inevitability. In the case of Echeverri, it collapses at an early hurdle: He is right-footed. But still, there is plenty to excite.
Echeverri is full of slippery changes of pace and rhythm. He can create in the pocket behind the main striker or use his pace on the shoulder of the last defender, and he has a clear notion of which spaces to attack and how to hurt the opposition.
And, on admittedly limited evidence, he does not appear overawed by the senior game. In a recent crunch match against Rosario Central, he was immediately into the thick of the action when introduced for the final 25 minutes, demanding the ball and looking to set up the play.
We are pleased to announce we have completed the signing of Claudio Echeverri from River Plate ✍️
Claudio has signed a contract until June 2028 but will remain at River before moving to the Etihad Stadium in January next year.
More info ⤵️
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 25, 2024
There is enough there to justify the nickname El Diablito (“The Little Devil”). It is more than a homage to the Bolivian player of the ’90s with almost exactly the same surname (Marco Etcheverry) who was dubbed El Diablo I“The Devil”). Echeverri is indeed smaller than the Bolivian original, but given better luck with injuries he may torment defenders for longer.
So, what happens next? River Plate were hoping City would let him stay for a while, and he will indeed play on in Argentina for another year. His Premier League adventure is due to begin in January 2025. Yet their dream scenario would be to keep him as far as the middle of 2025 so that he can play for them in the inaugural enlarged version of the Club World Cup. This seems unlikely.
River might be able to use some of the other members of their youth squad as leverage in a negotiation, but it would appear logical for City to want to blood Echeverri in Europe in the second half of next season. There could yet be a loan move to a sister club — the Argentine press are speculating that Girona in Spain might be the most likely destination.
Loan deals can be problematic — a player used to being treated as something special can find it hard to take when he is shunted off to a club that might not have his long-term interests at heart. This so-called wonderkid model produces plenty of casualties, tales of careers that lose momentum and never quite recover their initial surge.
Echeverri will have to be handled with care. The future of El Diablito is in the detail.