Everything had been organised, even down to the church Endrick and his family would attend. In November 2022, Chelsea, under the new leadership of Todd Boehly, had invited the then 16-year-old Brazilian to visit Cobham and Stamford Bridge, and meet some of the players in an attempt to convince him that his first landing place in Europe should be west London.
Endrick has for a long time been considered the best young talent in world football, so good in fact that he is expected to follow in the footsteps of his countrymen Pelé, Ronaldo and Romário and become a global star. And, as we meet at his house in São Paulo, the now 17-year-old Palmeiras forward says he nearly signed for the Premier League club. “I was very close. My parents really liked London and everyone speaks very highly of it.”
His father, Douglas, picks up the story. “I have to admit I do not like the cold but my wife and Endrick do. Endrick really likes playing in the rain. So we received an invitation from Chelsea, from the owner, and we went there to see the club and the country. We watched Chelsea play Arsenal and we got to see the coach, the facilities, Jorginho, César Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva.
“They explained everything to us. They introduced us to the person who would help us settle in. She showed us the house we would live in, the school Endrick would go to, the church we would attend. Everything was right with us and Chelsea.
“I can’t say 100% because I hadn’t signed, but the deal was agreed. I had already got it into my head that I would live in London with all that cold weather. But then at night, my son’s manager phoned and said that the Chelsea owner had backed out of the deal because the price they would have to pay for Endrick would inflate the market. It was €60m [£51.4m] for a 16-year-old boy who would only arrive in the country almost two years later.”
It wasn’t meant to be in the end but things have worked out for Endrick. A month later he signed for Real Madrid in a deal the Palmeiras president, Leila Pereira, described as “the biggest negotiation in the history of Brazilian football”. He will join the Spanish club in July 2024 having made his Brazil debut last month.
Endrick’s new reality contrasts with his past. While today he is the most popular player in Brazilian football, with money and fame, his parents endured difficulties that never leave the young striker’s memory. “I never went hungry, but my parents did. They starved for me. That gave me a lot of strength because I didn’t want to see them do that again. I didn’t want to see them in need, give me food and have them go without,” he says.
Endrick was born in Taguatinga, a city close to Brasília. Brazil’s federal capital boasts one of the best standards of living in the country but the surrounding area suffers from high levels of violence and poverty. It was in this environment that Endrick’s parents lived. “I had a very complicated, very difficult childhood,” Douglas says. “As soon as I arrived in Brasília, I lived in the orphanage for six months with my two sisters. My father abandoned my mother. My mother didn’t have a house, she didn’t have a job, so we had to live in the orphanage.”
Douglas tried to forge a professional career in football. He played for various small clubs in Brazil, but nothing very promising. In the 1980s, well before his permanent move in 2010, he ventured to São Paulo, but without success. “I took the bus from Gama to Luziânia with a backpack, two bottles, one of juice and one of water, and I came hitchhiking,” he recalls. “I arrived in São Paulo during one of the coldest nights of the year. I slept on the street and woke up with a woman hitting me on the shoulder and inviting me to sleep in a hostel so I didn’t die from the cold.”
Even though he hasn’t experienced the same problems as his parents, Endrick is sensitive about those who are excluded. That’s why, as well as learning new languages that will help him in his professional career, he has a different desire to communicate with deaf people. “I set a goal for myself that I need to learn five languages. One of them will be very different because it will be very important to me. I want to learn sign language. I want to connect with everyone. I want to speak to the mute or the people who don’t hear,” he says.
Endrick has already made an impression on the game. The last of them was the most important. He was the best player in Palmeiras’ Brazilian title win, the second national league in a row in his career. With 11 goals he became the first player under 18 to reach double figures in the Brazilian league since Neymar, who managed 10, in 2009. Yet his reaction to such success is by his own admission somewhat muted. Endrick concedes he is outwardly a person of few emotions. “My mother and my sister say that I’m cold. People say I have a heart of ice and I’m very cold with the decisions I make and what I say,” he says.
Perhaps this is his way of dealing with all the changes and pressures in his young life. A few months ago, harsh criticism of Endrick made him resolve to change his behaviour and answer those critics.
“I was angry at one time because I wanted to show them who I was. I tried to counter the criticism and show who I am. But then I understood that I didn’t need to prove it, I didn’t need to show the opposite. I’m Endrick. If they want to insult me, I won’t see it. Yes, it’s difficult, but … it doesn’t matter to me any more. Criticism doesn’t hurt me any more.”
Endrick insists that such criticism will not shake him, and he is especially uncomfortable about the negativity surrounding Neymar in Brazil. “Look what happens. In Portugal, Cristiano is an idol. All people like him. In Argentina, Messi is an idol. All people like him. In Poland, Lewandowski is an idol. And you see what they do with Neymar here in Brazil. It seems that Brazilians don’t like him. This leaves the player a little shaken, sad. But I try not to think about it so as not to get upset. I want to make Brazilians happy with the Brazilian team.”
The Brazilian Ronaldo is one of Endrick’s touchstones in the game. Another is Cristiano Ronaldo, both idols of Real Madrid, his next club. With more than 7.5 million followers on social media, Endrick is starting to get used to being among the biggest stars. He has received messages of congratulations from Ronaldo and also from Vinícius Júnior, Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo.
“They are spectacular players. They always send messages and comment on my photos on Instagram. And knowing that one day I will be with them is a very good thing. I’m very happy. But I need to live one day at a time. The future belongs to God.”
In July next year, Endrick will play with Vinícius Júnior, like him Brazilian and black, and who has suffered from racism. Endrick experienced the same ugly insults when he was 10 and is frustrated by a lack of action against the perpetrators. “My aunt went to the police station to report it, but nothing came of it,” he says. “Since we were little we know that racists are not punished, that nothing comes of it. So I stand with Vini, Rodrygo and everyone in football.”
“It was a wonderful experience. The national team is a place where I feel comfortable because I played there at the youth team. I already knew everything. Being able to return was an inexplicable, unique feeling for me. I remember the first time I wore the Brazilian shirt. I got goosebumps. My stomach got cold playing. It was against Mexico, in Montaigu. That time I put on my shirt and went to the mirror to see how I looked. Thank God that game was lucky for me. I scored a goal. After that game and the goal, I felt calmer. The shirt fits me very well. That day went very well. I was strong.
With all the difficulties he and especially his parents have had in life, Endrick is aware of the responsibility he carries. “Today I can have fun on the field. I really have fun on the field. I have fun playing football. That’s what I want to do in my life. Because if I’m not happy, nothing will work out. My childhood was not the one that every child has, always playing and going to school. But it was for a good cause and I just have to thank God for all the life I have nowadays.”