Bariloche, Argentina

By Chiwi Gianbirtone

When I went to see Claudio Nancufil, he looked like any other 8-year old kid, keen to play with his friends but not very communicative. Before playing a match they did a training session, kicking the ball to the coach and Claudio was waiting patiently for his turn without saying much.

Finally, they started playing and during the match he was constantly going for the ball and shots on goal. He dribbled swiftly past bigger boys, kicked the ball with his left and passed accurately. He kept on asking secretly for the ball so his opponents wouldn’t notice. He played well, like a grown-up player. He was quiet but went directly to the referee if some of the other players kicked him. At the end of the match it came down to penalties. Claudio always got the ball into the goal but the goalie was not bad either.

GALLERY: THE NEXT MESSI

They played on a dirt pitch in windy conditions with remnants of volcanic ash everywhere. I found myself wondering how much better he would fare on a real grass field.

During the match his grandfather, who is in charge of Claudio’s promising future, and his mother sat with the parents of the other players. They were very attentive but there was no pressure; I never heard them yell or say anything to encourage or criticize as so many other parents tend to do when their offspring participate in sporting events. On the contrary, they seemed to me to be calm and centered people; down to earth, like Claudio. Nobody treated him like a prodigy; he was just another member of the team.

In January the family will go to Barcelona and try out with some Spanish teams. There are plenty of rumors that more European premier leagues would be interested in Claudio.