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Julio Enciso: Paraguay wonderkid earning transfer interest from Europe

15:00 EAT 11/01/2022
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The 17-year-old forward is already a full international and a veteran of over 50 senior club matches after starring for Libertad over the past year

Meeting your idol is the dream of every football fan, no matter the age. Paraguay wonderkid Julio Enciso, though, has gone one step further.

The Libertad striker was just six years old when he watched ex-Benfica ace Oscar Cardozo lead the Paraguay charge during their journey to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, where they were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Spain.

Now 17, Enciso is not only part of the Libertad attacking line alongside Cardozo, who is 21 years his senior, but the pair also earned call-ups to the national team during September's World Cup qualifiers.

“I dreamed it one day, now I am living it thanks to God next to my idol, the great wizard,” Enciso wrote on Twitter, sharing two photos: one next to Cardozo during his first pre-season with Libertad, the second at Paraguay's training camp.

Enciso's rise has been dizzying indeed, as just two years separate the images, proof of just how quickly he has risen through the ranks to become the Guarani's great hope for future glory.

The forward grew up sharing a single house with his parents and grandparents in the city of Caaguazu, until a successful trial led him to move to the nation's capital, Asuncion, with Libertad.

“I remember very well that we saw him on 30 May, 2016. He was only 12 when we signed him,” Libertad scout Nelson Zacarias told Cronica. “He's a showman, he has incredible talent.

"His mother was a house cleaner and his father, a street vendor. Libertad gave his father a job and his mother a wage too so they would come to Asuncion with their son, who is now a champion with the first team and a Paraguay international.”

Enciso made an immediate impact in the club's youth ranks, where his uncanny ability in front of goal led to a positional change.

“I used to play in midfield, [the first-team coaches] saw me there and noticed that I liked to pull off tricks and moved me up front,” Enciso recalled to La Nacion. “In the Under-14s I scored 33 goals from midfield!”

After just two years at Libertad, the youngster was already turning heads. “It all started when I was playing in the club's [U15s], I remember we played a tournament in Brazil, against Boca Juniors, River Plate, Gremio and other teams,” he explained to Ultima Hora.

“I scored in all five games. When the tournament ended I was told that the Boca and River directors were both interested in me.”

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Libertad coach Leonel Alvarez, part of the great Colombia side of the early 1990s, was also watching carefully.

Alvarez called Enciso up to his first-team squad and, while he left soon after, his managerial successor on the bench, Jose Chamot, gave the teenager his debut on 16 March, 2019, against Deportivo Santani, just two months after his 15th birthday.

Most kids that age might wilt under the pressure; Enciso waited a mere eight minutes before skinning his marker with a Ronaldinho-esque elastica that almost led to Libertad's fourth goal of the evening.

From there, Enciso has not looked back. In 2020, he became (at the time) the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century when he netted against Bolivian outfit Jorge Wilstermann, while in 2021 he earned a call-up to Paraguay's Copa America squad, where he was the youngest player at the tournament and became the nation's fourth-youngest debutant of all time when he replaced Gabriel Avalos during their victory over Bolivia.

To cap it all, 2021 also saw Libertad lift the Apertura title - Enciso chipped in with four goals in 13 appearances - and fall just short of Copa Sudamericana glory at the semi-final stage, while on an individual level the prodigy was rewarded with the Paraguayan league's Revelation award.

Enciso was also able to fulfil one of his most heartfelt ambitions in December, as he explained to Cronica: “I have many dreams and one was to buy my parents a house, and I have done that, I bought them a house right next to my grandparents in Caaguazu.”

Libertad boss Daniel Garnero is just one of Enciso's ever-growing group of admirers. “He has speed, he can dribble,” he told reporters back in May, “Julio is the real deal, he is in a stage of growth and has to take advantage.

“He has very healthy team-mates in the squad, who are teaching him constantly, in particular Tacuara Cardozo. He has adopted him totally and Julito feels very comfortable with that... he does not tolerate mistakes, he demands so much of himself.”

Once the 2022 season kicks off, Enciso will have the privilege of sharing the field with not one, but two living Paraguay legends, as ex-Manchester City star Roque Santa Cruz, 40, completed a move from Olimpia at the end of 2021.

The youngest of the trio, though, may have his days numbered at Libertad. Enciso turns 18 on 23 January, and, with 50 senior games already under his belt and a burgeoning reputation, would be an irresistible transfer prospect for clubs across the world.

“There are rumours of my transfer, but I don't think about that,” he signalled to Ultima Hora in December amid reports of interest from Europe and North America.

“If it happens, it's welcome, but I am very focused on Libertad and on continuing to work hard and grow.”

His agent, Pedro Aldave, added to 1080 AM: "They are asking a lot about him in England and Italy... in the short or medium term, his destination is Europe."

He may not be the finished article just yet, with work needed both on the physical aspect of his game and his aerial ability, but Enciso has shown already that he has the talent and, perhaps even more importantly, the right attitude to succeed at the very top level.

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