Facundo Pellistri: The Uruguayan 'rascal' on Real Madrid's radar

Facundo Pellistri Penarol NxGn GFX
The 18-year-old Penarol starlet may not yet have a season of senior football under his belt but has emerged as a target for the Spanish giants

The signing of Federico Valverde from Penarol may yet go down as the best piece of transfer business Real Madrid have conducted in the last five years.

Madrid swooped to sign the teenager for just €5 million on the stroke of his 18th birthday in July 2016, and have since seen him go on to become a fixture in the Merengue first team and one of the world's most promising young midfielders. Now they are turning once more to the Uruguayan side's academy, in the hunt for the brilliant Facundo Pellistri.

As confirmed by Goal, Madrid chief scout Juni Calafat has been keeping a close eye on the 18-year-old winger's progress as he has dazzled onlookers in the Uruguayan top-flight over the last nine months. Calafat was key in enticing both Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo to the Spanish capital, and he is just as enthusiastic about what lies in store for Pellistri, who has also attracted interest from Argentine giants Boca Juniors as well as Napoli, Wolves, Atletico Madrid and other European sides.

A native of Montevideo, Pellistri began playing 'baby futbol' – the reduced space, indoor game that helped hone the talents of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and many other Uruguayan stars of the future – at just four years old, and landed in the Penarol academy ranks after a short spell with neighbours River Plate.

He was handed his first-team debut in the second half of the 2019 season while still just 17 and made an immediate impact with his explosive speed down the right wing.

The teenager finished Penarol's Clausura campaign as an undisputed starter under the eye of coach and former Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Uruguay ace Diego Forlan. He had started 2020 in much the same manner having been handede the No.10 shirt before Covid-19 brought a halt to football just three games into the league season.

Forlan, who played with the likes of Suarez and Cavani in the Celeste and teamed up with a young Sergio Aguero at Atletico, is a big fan of the winger's talents.

“Pellistri has huge potential. There is still a lot to work on. He is growing and he makes the difference,” he signalled to Jogo Bonito in April. “We know it will be difficult to keep him for a long time. He has great pace and that is hard to handle.”

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While an offer from Madrid would be hard to ignore, the Blancos will first have to see off one of Forlan's old team-mates. Juan Roman Riquelme lined up alongside the ex-forward at Villarreal and now, as vice-president of Boca Juniors, he also has Pellistri at the top of his wishlist, identifying him as a target just days after winning December's presidential elections at the Bombonera.

“Will he come to Boca? We will see. We get linked with millions of players,” Riquelme told Teledoce. “He is young, talented, he hasn't played that much but you can see he is a real rascal with the ball at his feet. And that is important. There aren't many like him around, who have the courage to be so cheeky on the pitch. That is highly valuable.”

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In February Pellistri signed a fresh contract with his boyhood club, bumping his release clause up to $15 million (£12m) in the process. The Manya, however, are realists; they know that in the scenario left by coronavirus that if the right offer comes along at this point, even if it is less than the clause, they may have little choice but to sell.

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“If an offer comes from Boca, and the player decides to leave, he will,” Forlan continued. “We know it'll be hard to keep Pellistri much longer.”

When the transfer window opens in June, then, Pellistri is likely to have no shortage of options. A move to Madrid would likely promise a bigger financial prize, while Riquelme's Xeneize have on offer a potentially more important role in the first team at the outset and the chance to continue starring in the Copa Libertadores following its coronavirus hiatus.

But whatever path the teenager opts for, big things are expected of the teenage "rascal" that has already won the Riquelme's heart.