It has been 14 years since a street game in the central Brazilian plains witnessed a diminutive three-year-old pull off a spectacular, fully-rotated overhead bicycle kick, sending the raggedy ball rocketing across the goal.
The neighbourhood boys swarmed the tiny phenom, who dribbled and juggled well beyond his years, bringing to the uneven streets the kind of football joy that people felt when they saw the game’s greats in their infancy. At that moment, Douglas de Sousa da Silva knew his young son Endrick was no ordinary child.
In the years since, the once-in-a-generation prodigy has dedicated himself to making his father proud, taking his family to Sao Paulo and into the ranks of the farm club for the storied Palmeiras club, where two years ago he became the sensation of the year, scoring 16 goals in 21 matches during the 2022 U20 Copinha tournament. That put him on radar screens nationally and internationally at just 15. He signed with Palmeiras at 16, becoming their youngest starter two months later.
With world attention and scouts beating at the door of Palmeiras, he was traded to Europe's top club Real Madrid for a record fee of $63.6 million, one of the biggest in the history of Brazilian football. Now, the teenage man-child is standing on the precipice of international superstardom, his name among the constellation of stars called to Brazil's Seleção Nacional.
The streets of Valparaiso in Brazil’s Gioias state, where he grew up, and the concrete canyons of Sao Paulo, where he now plays, brim with pride at the announcement that Endrick received his first call-up to Brazil's senior national team.
"It is an immense pride for all of us," say people who helped his journey as a child. Mention his name in Valparaiso and stories of how he has always outplayed those older than himself come one after the other. THE WEEK has followed his journey and maintains a close connection with the fields and the people who helped Endrick realise his potential.
In Endrick, Brazil may have found its next Pelé and the country is abuzz with his overdue arrival to the eleção after years of exceeding expectations.
Endrick joins the team on a high after netting three goals across his last two matches for Palmeiras, helping propel the São Paulo side into the Brazilian league title race just as the season hits its decisive final stretch.
His mature performances dispel any notion that the hype outweighs his abilities. Still not 18 until July, his play continues to belie his age. "He’s a player with the potential to be one of the great talents," Brazil coach Fernando Diniz said in announcing the latest squad. "I don’t know if that will be confirmed or not. This call-up is not meant as pressure; it’s a reward."
Diniz says he has been blown away watching a teenager already producing at such a remarkably high level. "What this kid has been doing for a long time now catches my attention. And right now, he's living his best moment playing against top teams in Brazil and managing to stand out."
For the team, "Endrick's inclusion signals a bit of what the future could look like," noted Dinitz, hinting at long-term plans.
Now Endrick has the chance to reward Brazil’s faith on the international stage. If called upon against Argentina or Colombia in the upcoming friendlies, he would become the Seleção’s youngest debutant since Ronaldo himself in 1993. Quite fitting, given the incessant comparisons to the legendary striker that have followed Endrick throughout his young career.
The call-up also provides a sneak preview of Endrick’s club future. He’ll share the pitch with soon-to-be Real Madrid teammates Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, who were also named to the squad.
Palmeiras’ supporters have watched Endrick develop since he first joined their youth academy six years ago at 11 years old. Even then, his preternatural technique, ambidextrous scoring touch, and juggling skills wowed scouts and set him apart, evoking images of a young Ronaldo or Romário.
Former coach Silas Eduardo Severino's voice gets emotional when he recalls how "absurd" were the skills of the young Endrick. Silas played an important role in preparing Endrick to play at the highest levels and has spoken with THE WEEK about the rise of Endrick.
Silas recalls how much older boys at trials would cry at seeing how much better Endrick was. "His strength and intelligence will change football because that will be the football of the future," he says.
Endrick quickly evolved into a phenom many believe capable of reviving Brazil’s lineage of legendary #9s on the global stage. Ronaldo himself declared Endrick football’s "next big thing" after watching him star at the youth Copinha tournament in early 2022.
Yet for all the fanfare, endless comparisons to icons like Ronaldo and Neymar, and intense scrutiny surrounding such a hyped prospect, Endrick himself remains remarkably grounded. Hard work and sacrifice have guided his journey more than natural gifts or prima donna tendencies. He credits his tight-knit family for keeping him focused on daily improvement over premature celebrity.
Endrick's mother Cintia told THE WEEK how she instilled in him a grounding and values that are still driving the budding superstar today. Douglas, his father, gave up his job over a decade ago to devote himself to honing his talented son’s skills and managing his career. With the help of others who recognised the talent, the family moved to Brasília then São Paulo to find more opportunities for training and development.
Endrick’s mentality reflects that upbringing. A devout evangelical Christian, he is soft-spoken and humble, preferring low-key prayer sessions to clubbing with teammates. He remains dedicated to his craft, not the fame it may bring. It's an equanimity that could serve him well to handle the pressures at the pinnacle of the game.
This discipline was evident during our exclusive interview with the rising star. "I try not to think about the future," he told The Week when asked about interest from top European clubs. "My focus is totally on Palmeiras and the next match...I have a lot left to prove on the pitch."
Endrick credited his family and faith for keeping him grounded amidst the growing hype. "Moments with my parents and brother are very special. I don’t give up on that," he said. "The most important thing is always maintaining my dedication and focus."
Yet behind the soft smile lies a ruthless competitor. On the pitch, Endrick can play like a man possessed, using his pace and power to overwhelm defences. He fights tenaciously to win back possession and can strike with surgical precision. His two-footed finishing ability evokes Romário, while his aerial threat recalls Ronaldo.
Endrick studies the modern greats too, idolising Cristiano Ronaldo for his work ethic and will to win. Like Cristiano, he trains maniacally to polish every aspect of his game. Their shared passion for self-improvement gives him a template for maximising his talents.
But while he admires CR7, Endrick resists direct comparisons between himself and other players. “I believe that each player has his own qualities and characteristics,” he told us judiciously. "My goal is to build my own trajectory, to be known for my story."
In 2023, Endrick laboured to make an impact as opponents focused intently on stopping him. He went three months without scoring a single goal, raising questions about his readiness for prime time.
Media reported that he was growing frustrated being relegated mostly to late substitute appearances. He yearned to start matches and play 90-minute shifts to find his rhythm. Yet Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira remained cautious, inexplicably limiting Endrick's playing minutes and causing concern at Real Madrid about whether the lack of play would affect his readiness to join them next year.
This led to strained moments between Endrick and his coach. He admires Cristiano Ronaldo's relentless work ethic and obsession for greatness but there was concern over his lack of opportunities to showcase his abilities.
However, he remained low-key and focused. By all accounts from friends and those in contact with him, he leaned on his devoted family during the rocky transition time. With Palmeiras struggling to defend their league crown, however, Endrick finally earned a starting assignment against Athletico Paranaense on October 25.
He rewarded coach Ferreira's faith by delivering a dazzling performance, including a stunning 30-yard golazo. Endrick danced past defenders with ease, showing the confidence and brilliance Brazilians came to expect from him. It was the Endrick Brazil had been dreaming of.
That breakout showing marked a turning point. Endrick went on an awe-inspiring run, notching three goals in his last two matches. This convinced Brazil national team coach Diniz to call him up for upcoming World Cup qualifiers -- a meteoric rise after his earlier struggles.
Those who know him off the field, say the challenges of his rookie campaign proved formative. Learning to channel his frustrations and continue improving has helped the grounded youth take his career to the next step. Now he heads to the national team with momentum, mentally equipped to thrive on the big stage.
Endrick’s rare mix of talent and temperament gives him an excellent chance of living up to expectations on the world's biggest stages, say his childhood coaches. His call-up is no fluke.