Ecuador's Kendry Paez celebrates scoring his side's opening goal against Fiji during a FIFA U-20 World Cup Group B soccer match at the Madre De Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, Friday, May 26, 2023.

Chelsea’s next superstar is bossing World Cup qualifiers at 16 – & proving Todd Boehly right

Chelsea’s transfer policy under Todd Boehly has come in for some heavy criticism, but the form of 16-year-old Kendry Paez proves that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Paez is an attack-minded player who typically plays behind a striker or off the flank. As a left-footed player, he likes to cut inside onto his stronger foot from the right-wing position and his dribbling ability has been compared, like anybody who can travel with the ball, to Lionel Messi.

Chelsea beat off competition from Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United after he grabbed the attention of scouts by scoring twice for Ecuador in the South American Under-17 Championship in April.

While the player won’t arrive at Stamford Bridge until he turns 18 in 2025, Paez has got Chelsea supporters hot under the collar with a superb full international debut in a 2-1 victory over Uruguay in a 2026 World Cup qualifier.

Despite the boiling conditions in Quito, with vaunted Uruguay stars like Federico Valverde and Manuel Ugarte in direct opposition, Paez imposed himself on the occasion with the seasoned air of an experienced professional.

Tackles were won, passes pinged to feet and runs made that drove the Uruguay defence to distraction. Extra oxygen is needed when playing in Ecuador’s capital, but Paez made such provisions a necessity rather than advisory.

His crowning moment came when chasing a loose ball at the start of the second half. Ugarte, a midfielder Chelsea had attempted to sign over the summer, hustled over to his teenage opponent and attempted to introduce himself with a traditional Uruguayan shove.

Hilariously, such brute force backfired on the PSG midfielder. As Paez skipped away from his opponent, leaving tyre marks on the pitch much to the dismay of the Ecuadorian groundsmen, Ugarte was left eating grass as he skidded to the floor.

You imagine future opponents will attempt to use similar tactics to intimidate the young Paez. Early indications show he doesn’t give a solitary eff.

Asked if he has watched any of Paez, and how highly he rates the Chelsea youngster, Moises Caicedo told La Cancha Con Majo in June: “He’s a crack!

“The truth is there are times where I watch Independiente games. It’s good to see those talents in Ecuador because we know we have very good youth.

“I’m very happy for him, for everything that he’s doing.

“All I can tell him is keep on the right track, doing things really well, and he’s going to go really far because the talent he has is incredible.”

Speaking about his looming move to Chelsea, Paez himself told ESPN SportsCenter: “I don’t feel pressure, I am focused on Independiente, on the Libertadores and trying to continue playing in the best way.

“To get there I have to keep working, be focused on learning. It will be something special to share things with players like Enzo Fernandez, with other special ones.

“It’s wonderful, but now I’m focused on Independiente del Valle. There are two years to go, I know it goes by quickly and I’ll keep doing my thing here.

“I’m Kendry, I’m going to give the name to Ecuador. I’m going to continue being me, I don’t want to be compared to Messi. He’s very special, he’s the best. I’m 16-years-old, they cannot compare me with him, because I’m in a process.

“I have things to improve and gain a lot of experience. Later, with time, perhaps with what I win, maybe with Kendry Paez, the Ecuadorian. It’s me and no one else.”

Boehly’s transfer policy has been justifiably criticised in many quarters for its immense cost and very little results over the past 15 months.

But Chelsea’s policy of signing the best youngsters in world football is bound to reap some rewards. There’s simply too much talent involved for the initiative to fail entirely.

And Paez has already shown he has what it takes to succeed in English football. 2025 cannot come soon enough.

By Michael Lee

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