He looks like Lionel Messi, comes from the same country as the Argentine superstar and, at the age of eight, already has Barcelona’s interest piqued. At the risk of building up hype that few would be able to match, remember the name: Claudio Nancufil.
Nancufil, who comes from Bariloche in the southern Andes, is set to be hailed as the “future” of Argentine football, with the BBC ready to include him in a documentary as part of their pre-World Cup build-up, with Diego Maradona as the past and Messi as the present.
He belongs to the Martin Guemes club in the ski resort town he lives in and, according to the president Marcelo Ernalz, showed himself to be a special talent from the age of four.
“As soon as he started to play [aged four] he was already different from all the rest of his playmates with regards to technique,” Ernalz, who also coaches one of the age group teams at Martin Guemes, told Reuters. “How he takes the ball stuck to his foot, brakes, stops, kicks, scores, shoots on goal, from when he was little he had all these distinct qualities.”
The unearthing of child prodigies have become part of the four-yearly build-up to World Cups – remember the hullabaloo around Freddy Adu before the 2006 tournament in Germany? – and for all we know, Nancufil could be another whose 15 minutes of fame are up before his age reaches double figures.
Adu represented the United States in 2010 and ever since being hailed as a boy wonder at the age of 10 (he was called “ the next Pele” having signing for DC United at 14 years old), he has often been criticised for failing to live up to his promise. But in his defence, the clamour for Adu to be a world-beater would have suffocated the most talented and level-headed of players. For the record, he is now 24 and a free agent, having just been released from his contract at Bahia, a mid-table side in Brazil’s Serie A.
As far as Nancufil is concerned, there could be something in this boy, who is so small for his age that he is having hormone treatment (again, mirroring the early life of Messi). The Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reports that some large movers and shakers have already invested time in the player, including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Manuel Otero, representing the Barcelona PR agency Suenos Comunicaciones, has visited the boy’s family and, according to El Confidencial, said: “After the Christmas holidays, ‘ Claudito’ [little Claudio] will go to try out with these three Spanish teams and then we’ll see what each of them offers us.”
Otero, whose agency normally represents musicians and actors, added: “We’ve had an invitation from River Plate for him to train for a week with them. [The family] are not closing any doors and England could also be a great destination for the player.
“The BBC is preparing documentaries in the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil and with Argentina they want to unite the past, present and future. For this, they plan to bring together Diego Armando Maradona, Lionel Messi and Claudio and with the participation of World Cup-winning coaches Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo.”
Nancufil’s family are understandably excited. His mother Viviana laughs at the fact that her youngest son can’t explain how he does what he does with a ball.
“We asked him, how do you do that? And he said, ‘I don’t know. I just get it in my head and my feet move on their own. It’s like that,’” she told Reuters.“‘I don’t know how I play like that. My legs just go.’ That’s what he told us. We would kid him about it, we’d say that he ran by remote control.”
She laughs at this mental image, but she adds that over and above Claudio’s talent she wanted a good future for her two sons including 11-year-old Braian: “That’s my dream, that they will always be good people, [Claudio] as a footballer or in any profession.”
Watch Claudio Nancufil in action...