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Kaiky: Europe's biggest clubs queuing up to sign Santos' 'new Marquinhos'

12:00 BST 24/08/2021
The 17-year-old has been linked with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Juventus after becoming a regular starter in Sao Paulo

When it comes to producing attacking talents, Santos are almost unmatched in South America.

The club that brought the world Pele, Neymar and Robinho has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years, either.

NXGN 2020 winner Rodrygo is already part of the furniture at Real Madrid despite not turning 21 until January, while Kaio Jorge - who placed 18th on the NXGN 2021 list - has flown the nest this summer after completing a move to Juventus.

There are high hopes, too, for teenage duo Marcos Leonardo and Angelo Gabriel, with the attacking pair already regulars in the first-team squad at the Vila Belmiro despite being 18 and 16, respectively.

What they do not have, though, is the same kind of reputation for developing defenders.

Ex-Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan centre-back Alex is arguably the Peixe's biggest success story when it comes to a defender from the club's academy graduating to the top of the European game in the last 25 years, but that now looks likely to change.

That is all down to the emergence of Kaiky over the past six months, with the 17-year-old having gone from a relative unknown to a fixture in the Santos line-up over the course of the past six months.

His form has not gone unnoticed, with Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Arsenal and Ajax among a clutch of top European clubs to have already made their interest clear in a player who is earning comparisons with a certain Paris Saint-German and Brazil star, even if it is not the one who is idolised at Santos.

"Neymar is not entirely my inspiration, though I admire the figure he is." Kaiky told ESPN Brasil. "The player who inspires me the most on the field, and who has the same profile as me, is Marquinhos.

"A lot of people compare my playing style with him, and for that I'm very honoured."

The phrase 'born to be a footballer' is almost certainly overused, but for Kaiky it seems apt. "When Kaiky was in his mother's belly, I used to joke that he would be a football player, because he kicked a lot," his father, Jadson, recalled to the Santos newspaper A Tribuna.

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As a child, Kaiky had to deal with some breathing difficulties, and was told as part of his treatment to begin regular exercise. Faced with a choice between football or swimming, there was only one option, and his talent soon became apparent.

"I found it curious that he kicked the ball with both feet," Jadson continued, "though it became easier for him to kick it with his right. Then he forced himself to kick with his left.

"He taught himself heading, but with the ball at his feet he always seemed to have so much time."

Like almost all Brazilian youngsters, Kaiky was spotted playing futsal before being enrolled into the Santos academy. He worked his way through the various age-group sides, with his personality marking him out as a true leader as well as an supremely talented player.

No more so was that the case than when he captained Brazil to the final of the Under-15s South American Championship in 2019. There they faced Argentina, and it was Kaiky who stepped up to take the decisive final penalty in the Selecao's shootout victory.

Given the impact Covid-19 had on the Brazilian game, that proved to be one of Kaiky's final acts on a football field for the best part of a year before the youth championships restarted towards the end of 2020.

Mere months later, on February 28, 2021, the defender received his first call-up to the senior squad to make his debut against Santo Andre as a host of first-team regulars were given some time off following their journey to the Copa Libertadores final.

That holiday meant that Santos were forced to blood a number of youngsters during the qualifying rounds of the 2021 continental competition, and it was there where Kaiky truly caught the attention of fans watching at home.

Seventy minutes into just his second senior appearance, the centre-back rose highest to meet a corner and plant his header into the back of the Deportivo Lara goal to secure a 2-1 win over the Venezuelan outfit.

At the age of 17 years and 57 days, the strike saw Kaiky become the youngest Brazilian to ever score in the Libertadores, though he only held the record for a month before Angelo became the youngest player of any nationality to score in the competition in April.

That was certainly an illustration of the aerial ability that Kaiky possesses, though - like Marquinhos - he stands out mostly for his calmness and ease with which he plays when the ball is at his feet.

He has recorded an 88 per cent pass completion rate through the first six months of his career, while he has also shown a great appetite to win the ball back when out of possession.

Santos know what a precious commodity they have on their hands, and have inserted a €70 million (£60m/$80m) release clause into his contract, which runs until 2023.

And though Kaiky is now facing a month out of action due to a thigh injury suffered in training, he is keen to ensure that when he does leave his boyhood club, he does so having made the maximum impact on the pitch.

"I love this club a lot, I don't want to leave soon," he said. "I want to win many titles around here, it's the club I support, the club of my heart.

I hope to build a beautiful story here, win many titles and then think about leaving."

When he eventually does depart, Kaiky has it all to become the latest in the long line of Santos academy graduates to become a household name around the world, even if he does not fit the Sao Paulo outfit's usual mould.