In December of 2022, Brazilian boy wonder Endrick Felipe, the super striker dubbed "The Predator," turned heads with a dominant attacking display in a charity exhibition night at the iconic Maracanã Stadium. The then-16-year-old Palmeiras and future Real Madrid striker scored multiple goals and was kiddingly asked to leave the field at halftime by opponent David Luiz because his play was so overwhelming.
Video highlights showed Endrick slicing through defences at will, unleashing powerful shots into the top corners and deftly setting up teammates. He resumed his awe-inspiring performance after the break.
That was the immense promise of the teenager who tallied an astonishing 165 goals in 169 matches for Palmeiras’ youth teams. His precocity caught the world's attention before Real Madrid secured his signature for $45 million. His nimble footwork and clinical finishing ability drew lofty comparisons to former Brazilian stars Ronaldo and Romário for his blistering pace and scoring prowess.
The teen crack whom Palmeira's coach Abel Ferreira once dubbed “the next Neymar” started the year as a fixture in Palmeiras’ attack but soon fell into a slump, scoring only four goals in 23 appearances in the first half of 2023, a period in which he had a complete goal drought over 13 games.
So high were the expectations of the teen that in February, 10 games into the goal drought, he covered his face with a shirt after the game. Ferreira confirmed later that he did so because Endrick cried.
Then he was benched by Ferreira, relegated to substitute status, no explanation given. Palmeiras refused to release Endrick for the Under-20 World Cup as his role diminished.
With Endrick glued to the bench, Brazil were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Pundits speculated that Ferreira was trying to teach Endrick humility after the splash about this projected stardom.
But could denying him the playing time and opportunities to polish his form damage Endrick’s development irreparably? The question has been on the mind of fans and analysts in Madrid.
His progression has stalled at Palmeiras, risking harm to his development during a formative time when he should be getting regular action to hone his game.
Now, Ferreira grows exasperated when asked about Endrick, signalling he can’t wait until the youngster departs.
Perhaps he was cutting Endrick's ego down to size, but his diminishing form and playing time have relegated "the next Neymar" to the status of an unproven teenager perpetually warming the bench.
With his career at a crossroads, Endrick is now out to overcome adversity and limited action to fulfil his immense potential.
With a potentially generational Brazilian talent in their hands, Palmeiras and Ferreira have incentive not to let Endrick’s skills stagnate while on their watch.
The club has not explained why their prized youngster has been relegated to the sidelines nor of a plan to get him back on the pitch soon. This failure could jeopardise the large investment made by Real Madrid and Endrick's once boundless potential, say critics as much in Brazil as in La Liga.
Endrick is still about nine months away from joining Real Madrid as their expensive future “number 9”.
Yet, in August, Endrick played just twice, totalling 92 minutes, while sitting unused on the bench for five other matches. He was again left as an unused substitute in a weekend game with Palmeiras comfortably ahead, fuelling more questions over why manager Ferreira does not play the teen talent.
For most of the year, the phenom has been relegated to a spectator role and last-resort attacking option. Endrick will now go nearly two months without a goal, his last strike came on July 2.
The absence of minutes led Brazil’s Olympic team to leave Endrick off its latest roster for upcoming friendlies, even as other bright prospects were called up.
But, at a strong five minutes’ play in the scoreless draw at Corinthians’ imposing Neo Química Arena stadium, Endrick generated Palmeiras’ clearest scoring chance and narrowly avoided injury from a hard foul.
After the game, Endrick acknowledged feeling external pressure to live up to sky-high expectations.
“It’s hard knowing people put responsibility on us,” the now 17-year-old Palmeiras striker said through the club’s TV channel. “You have to have an enormous mental strength to persist, not give up, withstand everything.”
With renewed praise for his performance at the classic, Endrick is resetting during the international break before returning to action. “It’s good to have peace, spend time with family, which is the case for my teammates, take a vacation,” he said. “But you also miss being on the field.”
The struggling prodigy, who will join Real Madrid in July 2024, was quick to credit Palmeiras' seasoned veterans and coaches for their support. “They’re always helping me daily, giving me advice that I listen to and apply,” Endrick emphasised.
“I’m training a lot to be in good shape, happy, and help my teammates,” said Endrick. “I’m getting into a good rhythm, which is what I wanted since the year began. Now I’m feeling well and happy.”
When he feels confident, Endrick said, “I provoke expulsions, make good plays, help my team—the most important thing is that Palmeiras keeps winning.”
“God has given me a wonderful family here at Palmeiras,” he added. “There are players here with huge hearts, amazing people.”
Putting a positive spin on his time on the bench and as a team player, Endrick said the mental aspect is key during his development. “Whenever I enter the field, it’s to be happy, have confidence, have joy,” he said.
“In every game I seek that, to be at peace and help my teammates.”