Exequiel Zeballos: Boca's teenage magician being linked with Europe's biggest clubs

Exequiel Zeballos NXGN
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The 18-year-old winger has been linked with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City thanks to his frightening pace and supreme dribbling ability

"Hello, I'm Exequiel Zeballos. My dream is to play in La Bombonera and create magic."

In the days that followed Exequiel Zeballos' debut for Boca Juniors, a video from his childhood surfaced, showing the youngster talking through what he one day hoped to achieve.

Now 18, Zeballos has begun to fulfil his own fantasy, and though Boca fans have only seen glimpses of the teenager's magic so far, his early displays suggest there is plenty to get excited about when it comes to the boy from La Banda.

Frighteningly fast with mesmeric skills and the confidence to take on any defender who opposes him, Zeballos has long been spoken about as a potentially special talent, with some even having compared him to Neymar.

Though he may not quite reach the levels of the Brazil superstar, the early signs suggest that Zeballos' name is one fans around the world will have to get used to hearing over the next decade or so.

Brought up in the small city of La Banda, football was not a sport that many in the area excelled in.

Though legendary Argentina winger Rene Houseman grew up in the area, the most prominent sports club in the city, Ciclista Olimpic, specialised in basketball rather than the national game.

Zeballos' footballing education, then, came in his school team for Sarmiento de La Banda, though he did also turn out for local side Los Dorados de Termas de Rio Hondo from time to time. He was nicknamed 'Little Palacio' thanks to the similarities in his game to one-time Inter forward Rodrigo Palacio.

It was playing at an inter-state tournament in 2013 that he was spotted by Boca talent scout Diego Mazzilli, who acted immediately to sign the then-11-year-old winger up.

Three years later, Zeballos moved permanently to Buenos Aires and the club's Casa Amarilla academy centre, and it did not take long for him to settle into his rhythm.

In 2017, while playing for the club's Octava Division side, he scored 15 goals, earning him a call-up to Argentina side for the South American Under-15s Championship.

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The Albiceleste came out on top at the tournament, with Zeballos netting five goals to finish as his side's top scorer in the competition.

Unsurprisingly, interest in Zeballos began to grow, and as such the club tied him down to a first professional contract in 2018, making him the youngest player in the club's history to sign such a deal at the age of 16.

He began training with the club's first-team squad a year later, though he had to wait until the final months of 2020 to finally make his mark on the senior stage.

A wide player who is comfortable with either feet and who has made his name by dribbling past opponents with ease, it was somewhat fitting that he made his debut in Boca's first match following the death of Diego Maradona in November.

His substitute appearance against Newell's Old Boys was followed by three further starts before the season was out, and it is expected that he will figure much more prominently in 2021.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City have all been credited with interest in him, though his increased exposure has led Boca to tie the set-piece specialist down to a new contract that will keep him with the Xeneize until 2025.

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Exequiel Zeballos NXGN GFX

"This changuito Zeballos - he is at a different level," was the evaluation of Italian World-Cup winner Daniele De Rossi when speaking to ESPN following his short spell at Boca as he invoked Zeballos' nickname of 'Little Monkey'.

Now the challenge will be to light up La Bombonera on a weekly basis as Argentina awaits its next great attacking leader. 

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