Neymar, Gabigol, Rodrygo – the Santos academy has a strong recent record when it comes to producing attacking talent.
And yet, there is a teenager at the club right now who has scored more goals in the Santos youth system than any of those aforementioned superstars.
Despite having only just turned 17 in May, Marcos Leonardo is already making his mark on the first team, after finding the net on over 100 occasions since joining the club as an 11-year-old.
Though not yet a starter for the Brazilian giants, it is seen as only a matter of time before he earns that opportunity as the latest ‘Menino da Vila’ – a term used to describe youngsters who have grown up within the academy structure – to emerge at Estadio Urbano Caldeira.
Born in Itapetinga in the northeast of Brazil, Leonardo took his first footballing steps under the watchful eye of his father at the ‘Athlete for Christ’ programme, which helped underprivileged children through the power of the national game.
His talent was immediately clear and it was soon decided that Leonardo’s family would move 950 miles south and relocate to Sao Paulo in a bid to catch the eye of one of Brazil’s biggest clubs.
By the time 2014 rolled around, Leonardo had been picked up by Santos, and set about impressing their coaches right away.
“I noticed a very strong nose for the goal, that he was opportunistic and always well-positioned,” Gustavo Roma, the club’s Under-13s coach, told the Santos website of Leonardo, who even then was playing two years above his own age.
“He is a very good finisher, he always tries to be present in every game, is very mobile and intense, with very good intuition. He is not static waiting for the ball to arrive, he moves to find the best position to be able to finish. That’s why he scores so many goals.”
As the lead central striker within the club’s youth system, his goalscoring record is unrivaled, with many hopeful he can go on to surpass the achievements of Gabigol and succeed in the European game as well as in South America.
The early signs are good after he was called up to train with the first-team squad back in July.