Trotting up the stairs, and out of the tunnel into São Paulo’s Allianz Parque, the interplay of light and shadow looks like the collective movement of 43,000 fans. As one exits the hollow in the earth and comes to eye level with the turf, three shades of green rise toward the piece of sky above; it is Palmeiras green, and 16-year-old Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa is wearing it.
He is carrying three generations of his own history, and the aspirations of millions of fans who want him to score beautiful goals they can savour in the Parque and then in the comfort of their drawing room. To be standing where he stands today is every footballer’s fantasy. He has entered a world we can see, but cannot enter.
It took talent, courage, focus, family, skill, will, grit, art, and hours of training to reach where he has. Also, the “blessings of God”, which Endrick acknowledges in almost every post of his on Instagram. On September 18, ahead of his Palmeiras senior team debut, he posted pictures of him in the team jacket and the jersey. He wrote: “God just keeps blessing me. Another dream come true! God is unexplainable!” Coach Abel Ferreira did not give Endrick, who was wearing # 16 instead of his customary # 9, play time, but it is only a matter of time before he yields to the temptation.
In this moment he is everyone’s hero. Among the anticipation and the excitement, as the cheers of the fans hit the players in the face before the whistle blows, hangs one question: Is he ready for battle of the big boys?
Many believe he is.
“He scored five goals in six games, and friends were raving about this big talent coming through,” Palmeiras fan Gustave Morrison from New Zealand recalled how he was introduced to an exceptional talent.
“That bicycle goal against Oeste [this January] was very fast, very precise,” said passionate football fan and journalist Erick Gimenes. “Others cannot do that with that speed and accuracy.”
As much as he is a powerful player, Endrick is an artist, a sculptor of magnificent goals. Each move is poetic as he toys with the opposition defenders. He controls the ball with his left foot, the ball bounces between his right and left foot; now you can’t tell which foot controls the ball, then his right foot goes backward, and the ball follows. It is as if you are watching a conjuror do the three-card trick.
Finding where all of that comes from was not an easy task. Endrick is new on the world stage and some of the information available turned out to be unreliable. Add to that the understandable instinct of Palmeiras to protect its greatest asset. It took us a few months to put together his story, over 2,500km of travel, nearly a hundred phone calls and emails... well, it was worth it.
He was born in the central Brazilian highlands along the massive concentration of high-rises in Taguatinga, a satellite city to Brasilia, in Brazil’s capital district. He is the descendant of migrants from the state of Bahia and the northeast state of Piaui, people who populated the empty savannah after the country’s new capital was built.
When he was 4, his family moved to Valparaiso, in the adjoining state of Goiás, just outside the federal capital district. Valparaiso is not a favela or a slum. It is, and was then even more, a borderline rural area with few opportunities.
At that age he would play in the dirty streets with the neighbourhood kids. His moves, skill and courage put a sparkle in the eyes of his father, Douglas de Sousa Silva Ramos. It was his belief in his son, his persistence in seeing him noticed and his unwavering faith in his son’s potential that carved an early path for him as much as anything else. The man quit everything else to dedicate himself to his son’s football future.
Douglas Ramos, like his father before him (who died on September 23), harboured dreams of a future in football as a way out of poverty, playing for-pay tournaments (where players are paid a pittance per match) as a striker wearing the # 11 jersey. An injury ended his career.
Endrick became the first player in Brazilian history to play in the Under-15, Under-17, and Under-20 sides, all in the same year. As the breakout star of the Under-20 cup at 15 in early 2022, he commanded global attention and cast his spell on a world that suddenly became aware of the number and beauty of the goals he produces.
His play and mental strength have made people compare Endrick with the greatest players in sports history. “I am never fully satisfied with my football; I know I can become better if I dedicate myself. My great strength is willpower,” said Endrick, crediting his family for helping him stay focused, and reassuring him that things would fall in place in God’s time.
Because of his age, and because of the fact that he plays with players several years older than him, he is often the smallest on the field. Just the same, he and his father, who was working at the club as a janitor, have had to endure taunts from other players’ parents that he is a “gato”, a slur for those who sandbag their age.
There have been plenty of obstacles at every step of the way, from playing on the dirt streets and dry fields of central Brazil, to lacking food or electricity or both, to difficulty getting accepted to academies that would play him at his level, to getting noticed by the big clubs, to moving a thousand kilometres away to São Paulo, but there was never a question about giving up. “I wake up every day focused on what I have to do on the pitch, in addition to taking care of myself off the pitch,” said Endrick.
From an early age, he followed his father to the grounds and learned about football by watching him play. On these trips, his father would tell him stories about great players, great teams, and great goals.
“He in an exceptional child who loves life and is polite and thankful,” said Douglas, with the bias of a father. But it is amazing that a lot of people whom THE WEEK spoke to for this story shared the observation.
“He is the type of boy with a big heart,” insisted Douglas. In fact, when people approach him to have their picture taken with him, he ends up thanking them. Endrick is so humble that even when he succeeds, he does not brag, said his former coach Silas Eduardo Severino. “He is not flashy like Neymar,” said Gustave Morrison.
“Young fans came to me at the final of the Copa São Paulo and said that the story of my son has made many Brazilians think differently as to how a player should be,” said Douglas. “This indicated that he is doing something different.”
Growing up in poverty has made Endrick mentally tough. “My father could not become a [professional] football player,” he said in a video interview when he joined Palmeiras at the age of 11. “I want to transform his life forever.” Standing by his side, his father could not hold back his tears. “My son once told me he would take us out of this difficult situation,” he said.
Four years later, Endrick appeared more assured and determined. “I am a player who will never stop,” he told Spain’s Marca magazine. “I always want more. I am daring, try to do the most difficult things and be decisive. I am a team player, which is most important. To the people who do not know me, I would like to tell them that I am very persistent.”
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Endrick remains focused on keeping his feet on the ground, not letting fame or success change the kind of person he is. “It is inexplicable what is happening in my life,” reflected Endrick in an earlier interview. “But it is important that I keep my head in its place and maintain humility, to not let anything get to my head for being the best player and best striker at the same time. All of that, the team helped me; if it were not for them, I would not have won.”
Off the field, Endrick is most at home with his friend Lucas Santos. They have been friends since Endrick was 6 and Lucas, 9, when Lucas’s father, Fabio Rodrigues, had Endrick under his wing. “I could see that he held lot of promise then,” Lucas told THE WEEK.
Together, they dreamt of football glory. “But Endrick had more desire,” said Lucas, a dental school student. “The last thing he thinks of is fame. He does not think about money, he is not transformed by it. He plays a lot with the ball, and that is what is important for him. Money and fame are a consequence. Totally.” Endrick’s dream, said Lucas, is to play for Brazil and win the World Cup for his country.
Together, they go shopping, to movies, talk about girls, and play video games. Illustrating both Endrick’s character and their friendship, Lucas shares a story of when they were much younger, playing outside his house. “Endrick put his foot through the wall to my bedroom, ruined the entire wall,” recalled Lucas. “I was angry, very angry. I grabbed him, knuckle-smacked him in the head a few times. Endrick smiled and continued on. It did not affect our friendship.”
On September 18, Endrick stepped onto the field at Allianz Parque, the most modern stadium in Latin America, stood with the Palmeiras professional team with his hand on his heart. It was a dream come true. The next milestone will be his actual debut in a game.
“Fire uphill and water downhill are like a talented player,” wrote Palmeiras bases coordinator João Paulo Sampaio on the club’s website. Endrick, he noted, is “a force of nature”.
Indeed, he is.