·13 September 2023
·13 September 2023
Current Time 0:00
Ever since Todd Boehly bought Chelsea in 2022, the club have made a point of buying up talented young players in the Premier League and from around the world. Cole Palmer, Romeo Lavia, Andrey Santos and Moises Caicedo are just a few examples who spring to mind, with none of those players older than 21.
Yet it was a 16-year-old prodigy that the club signed over the summer who caught the eye during the international break. Kendry Paez made his senior international debut for Ecuador in their 2-1 victory against Uruguay on Tuesday night. His highlights have since gone viral, and they have got supporters drooling.
Born in 2007, the teenager is currently plying his trade at Independiente del Valle in his home country. Although the Blues have agreed a reported fee worth £17.27m, he is unable to join his new club until he turns 18 in May 2025. Given what we have seen of him so far, though, he could be the next big thing for the west London club.
The Ecuadorian joined Independiente’s youth setup at the age of 12 in 2018 and quickly began to impress. A natural left midfielder and winger, Paez was named the top talent at the Next Generation Trophy tournament in Austria in 2022 which takes a look at up-and-coming players from around the world.
He then made his debut for the club’s senior team at just 15 years old, which made him the youngest debutant in the Ecuadorian top flight. And he became the youngest goalscorer in the division during that game too, scoring in a 3-1 win over Mushuc Runa SC in February this year.
Since his debut, a further 16 appearances have fallen the way of the talented wonderkid, and although no other goals have followed in that time, there is plenty of time to work on his attacking positioning and finishing. Andoni Bombin, head of the academy at Independiente, has said that everyone at the club has been very impressed with his progress so far.
"When I joined I heard about him and everyone at the club, all of them say the same - ‘he’s a talent.’ When you see him playing, everything around him is easier. He understands really well what needs to be done to orientate the ball, the game and he always is present in the key moments of the game because he likes to have the responsibility. I think it's really important for a youth player." Bombin, per the Daily Mail
While Chelsea got a deal over the line this summer, there was no shortage of teams who were interested in signing Paez. Following his rapid rise in his home country, many top clubs in Europe were looking to recruit him.
After his move to Chelsea was confirmed, Independiente’s director, Santiago Morales, confirmed that both Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United had made offers for the 16-year-old. However, Chelsea were apparently the team who showed the most interest.
Spanish giants Real Madrid were also reportedly interested in the youngster, eager for Paez to follow in the footsteps of Los Blancos’ other South American talents like Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo, as were Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen. The calibre of teams mentioned here only goes to show how highly regarded a prospect he is.
Paez has also shone away from his club for Ecuador’s youth teams, representing both the under-17 squad and then the under-20s. He has played 13 times at the U17 level, again making his debut at just 15, and he scored five times during those appearances too.
In March, he was called up for the U17 South American Championship, and those performances made Miguel Bravo, the Ecuador U20 coach, take note of him. Paez was ultimately selected to represent his country at the U20 World Cup in Argentina that summer, and he would feature in all three of the group games, bagging three assists at the tournament and even opening the scoring in their 9-0 thrashing of Fiji, which made him the youngest scorer in the history of the U20 World Cup. Ecuador would ultimately be knocked out by South Korea in the Round of 16, but Paez’s stock had only risen during the competition.
To really complete a tremendous few months, Paez was called up to the Ecuador senior squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Uruguay during this international break. Although he failed to come off the bench during his side’s 1-0 defeat to the 2022 World Cup winners, he was handed his debut against La Celeste.
Lining up in midfield alongside a current Chelsea player in Caicedo, who Brighton signed from Independiente in 2021, Paez became Ecuador's youngest ever international and the second-youngest South American to play for his country at 16 years, four months and eight days. The only South American who was younger than him at the time of his international debut was Diego Maradona, starting for Argentina at 16 years, 3 months, and 28 days. Not bad company to be in.
And Paez took his chance with both hands. Although Uruguay would score first through Agustín Canobbio, Ecuador levelled through Felix Torres, thanks to an assist from Caicedo just before half-time. Torres would then bag his second to put Ecuador in front, and this time it was Paez who created the goal. With the debutant picking up the ball on the left, he drilled a cross in for his teammates, with Torres only having to tap the ball home.
He was withdrawn after 70 minutes, but he had done plenty to convince his coach that he is ready to start more for his country moving forward. Finishing the game with a Sofascore rating of 7.5, only three players had a higher pass accuracy than his 83%, while only Pervis Estupinan attempted more dribbles than him.
Following the match, Paez’s highlights went viral on Twitter, and the video helped to showcase exactly what he is all about. His excellent ball control, blistering pace, and fantastic dribbling all allow him to skip past opponents with ease, while he also possesses an incredible range of passing and crossing.
He is no slouch defensively either, with his highlights showing a willingness to track back to try and win the ball. That is something highlighted by his match statistics, with his total of 11 duels showing his combative nature when on the pitch. With further development, he really could be a complete winger.
Be sure to watch his highlights below to see exactly what he will bring to the Premier League in a few years. No doubt that Chelsea fans will be counting down the days until he makes his debut at Stamford Bridge.