Chelsea: Estevao Willian has been compared to Neymar and Lionel Messi (2024)

Chelsea: Estevao Willian has been compared to Neymar and Lionel Messi (1)Image source, Getty Images

Marcus Alves

BBC Sport

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Abel Ferreira hesitated for a second, insisted he wouldn't say what he had in his mind, but then - in a rare moment of full disclosure when it comes to young talents - he opened up.

"This player is different from everything I've ever seen," the Palmeiras coach said in a press conference in early May, following a 2-1 win over Botafogo-SP in the Brazilian Cup.

The two-time Libertadores champion is not particularly known for letting himself get carried away too easily, especially in front of the cameras. But that night, he allowed himself to speak freely because he couldn't believe his eyes - 17-year-old Estevao Willian had just scored the winner in the final minutes and put on a spectacular show once more.

Such is the impact the left-footed winger has had this season that Ferreira tried, in vain, to convince the club board not to sell him. That was too late, though.

Chelsea have beaten the competition of the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris St-Germain and Manchester City to sign the Palmeiras wonderkid in a deal that could eventually be worth £52m and that will see him arrive at Stamford Bridge after Fifa’s new Club World Cup in July 2025.

Other Brazilian teenagers such as Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo left for Europe at the same age for huge fees. They've both proved themselves already on the big stages since then. But none of them were as hyped as Estevao when they first moved abroad.

There's a feeling in Brazil that the boy from the countryside of Sao Paulo may be something else, the kind of player that comes along once a decade and seems destined to the very top.

"Estevao is the best player to have emerged from Brazilian football since Neymar. You watch him and you fall in love," the head of Palmeiras' academy, Joao Paulo Sampaio, told BBC Sport.

"He already impresses with his technique but, like Neymar at this same point in his career, he has not yet matured physically and is not as strong as Endrick, so he could still develop a lot. That's what amazes everyone and makes them think that he will reach a much higher level."

Chelsea may have struck gold with their new signing.

Forget about Messinho - his name is Estevao

Estevao is a member of the so-called "geracao do bilhao" - a generation of players that also includes Real Madrid-bound Endrick and West Ham’s new starlet Luis Guilherme and with whom Palmeiras expected to make 1bn Brazilian Real (around £152m).

All three have been making waves since they were kids - Estevao himself was only 10 the first time Palmeiras tried to lure him to their academy, but failed to match an offer reportedly 10 times higher from Cruzeiro.

He then became the youngest Brazilian footballer to sign a contract with Nike, surpassing Neymar (13) and Rodrygo (11), and was dubbed 'Messinho' (little Messi) for his ability to change direction and dribble past opponents while running with the ball at speed.

It hardly came as a surprise to those who had been following him when Spanish newspaper AS said during the 2023 U-17 World Cup that "Brazil have a new genius".

Despite the similarities with Lionel Messi, Estevao has stated he doesn't want to be called 'Messinho' anymore.

It's not only his left foot that leaves others fascinated, but also the mentality he already possesses. Sampaio recalls an episode that illustrated that.

"When we won the 2022 U-17 Brazilian Championship title, Estevao ended up breaking one of his toes during a decisive game," he said.

"But even so he still didn't want to leave [the game], so he came to me at half-time saying, 'I'll go back for the second half'. And I challenged him: 'You better go back.' And so he had a painkilling injection in his toe and told me, 'I'll go back, score a goal and look for you in the stands to shush you.' That's how strong he is mentally."

No concern at all about Chelsea situation

A right winger who can also play as number 10, Estevao has always been treated differently.

He was still five months away from being able to sign his first senior contract at the age of 16 when Palmeiras, in an unusual move, announced they had agreed the terms of it.

His decision to choose Chelsea as the next step in his career has been questioned back home, due to the confusing situation of the English club and their recent record with young Brazilians such as Andrey Santos, Deivid Washington and Angelo Gabriel.

Estevao's staff has told BBC Sport they have no concerns whatsoever about it and added they believe a transfer to West London will give him a chance to break into the team more quickly compared to other clubs.

With the 2026 World Cup as his main goal, the plan is to hit the ground running at Stamford Bridge once he arrives.

"I would say that with Estevao it's not a matter of whether this place is easier or not because he's the kind of player that just goes there and gets things done. When you are an extra-class like him, that's how you do it," Sampaio concluded.

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Chelsea: Estevao Willian has been compared to Neymar and Lionel Messi (2024)
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