It was no significant revelation when Manchester United secured the first option on the signing of a 15-year-old Chilean called Angelo Henriquez in 2009, after all the club have a whole feeder club of potential in Brazilian side Desportivo Brasil. The deal was set to last until 2014 with the striker travelling to Manchester every year to display his evolution on the field. But following the striker’s scintillating early form for Universidad de Chile, The Sun have reported that United have decided to take up their option a few years earlier. Sir Alex Ferguson has discovered some awesome talents in his time in Manchester, but will Henriquez rank up there with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Hernandez?
Universidad de Chile were the best team in South America last year as they won both domestic titles (opening and closing stage) as well as enjoying continental glory for the first time in their histroy by winning the Copa Sudamericana (the Europa League equivalent). It was not only what they won, but the way in which they achieved it that was so awe inspiring. Coach Jorge Sampaoli is a self-confessed Marcelo Bielsa disciple and set his team out to play a possession-based high-intensity game with just three defenders. The crowning moment of their indomitable year came in the 4-0 win in Rio de Janeiro against Brazilian giants Flamengo, part of a 36-game unbeaten streak.
Such success attracted the attention in some of their star talents and soon after the Sudamericana top scorer Eduardo Vargas, striker Gustavo Canales and experienced centre-back Marcos Gonzalez were all lured away by richer clubs. The departures lowered expectations for 2012 but the team commonly known to as ‘La U’ have remained a force at the highest level, booking their place in the national Apertura finals once more as well as a Copa Libertadores semi-final against the mighty Boca Juniors.
The transition has been managed impeccably by Sampaoli with some astute signings that have proved to be more than adequate replacements. But perhaps the most satisfying for all associated with the club is the rapid progression of Henriquez.
Having made his debut last year at the tender age of 17, Sampaoli showed a tremendous degree of faith in the striker and has involved him heavily in the first team this season. Henriquez made an immediate impact with a late goal in the 5-1 win over Godoy Cruz on his Copa Libertadores debut and it proved to be the start of a series of excellent displays belying his age.
He has shown an innate ability to peel off his marker, seeking out space to make himself available to his team-mates. His prowess was perhaps best displayed in his goal against Santiago Wanderers as he found space between the centre-backs and was put through on goal. He stayed strong to hold off a challenge from a chasing defender and then instantly poked the ball around the keeper and found the back of the net. Three succinct movements in the space of a few seconds was all it took. Having played in a team that earned the nickname ‘Barcelona of South America’ Henriquez has developed exemplary movement as well as remaining comfortable under pressure with the ball at his feet.
His clinical nature in the box has seen him go on to find the net eight times in 10 league appearances this season. Now 18-years-old, he looks set to be on his way to the Premier League with Manchester United agreeing to pay the necessary £3million fee for the youngster. The agreement is yet to be confirmed in the Chilean press, but having already agreed on a first option for Henriquez the move is extremely likely.
He certainly looks like he will be able to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League and is by no means slight. However, United fans may have to wait until they can see him in the famous red shirt unless they can acquire a ‘special talent’ visa for him to work in England. Otherwise Henrqiuez could find himself loaned out to another European team, something that could well prove beneficial anyway.
Henriquez is one of the most exciting talents in South American football at the moment and he will absolutely thrill Premier League fans. It is another display of expert scouting by the Red Devils who could have secured a fantastic young talent for an extremely low price. There are always worries when a player moves so young as the culture shock can often make it difficult for them to adapt. But Henriquez looks to have the character to succeed in England and may prove to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most shrewd signings.