A video went viral on social media on Wednesday of an 11-year-old Julián Álvarez saying his dream was to play in a World Cup and that his idol was Lionel Messi. That very same day, the young Argentina and Manchester City star lined up against Poland in Doha, replacing Lautaro Martinez, and scored the second goal in a crucial 2-0 win.
The viral video was from 2011 when the ex-River Plate star was training at Club Atlético Calchín, near Córdoba. He was already starting to make a name for himself.
During that time he travelled with his father Gustavo and his brothers for almost two hours by car and got a photo with Messi in a hotel, in the run-up to that year's Copa América, which he treasured.
"Happy birthday to the best player in history. Thank you for so much, idol," wrote Álvarez himself in 2015 to congratulate Messi, accompanying the message with the photo taken four years earlier.
Seven years ago, Álvarez had trials for River Plate. He eventually joined their youth team a year later, in 2016, and his career as a professional footballer was launched.
The forward’s enormous potential was spotted early on and in 2018 he was part of a group of youngsters called up to train with the senior national team ahead of their World Cup campaign in Russia. It was the start of many moments he would come to share with Messi as a peer.
During the build-up to Qatar 2022, Álvarez took the definitive step and he made the cut for the tournament's 26-man squad put together by Lionel Scaloni, who has put him on the pitch in all three of Argentina's group games.
In the 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia and the 2-0 win over Mexico he played the last half hour of each game. But on matchday three, when La Albiceleste needed to seal qualification against Poland, he came into the starting line-up, replacing Lautaro Martinez and leading the attack alongside Messi and Ángel Di María.
"I'm very happy for me personally and for the group," he said after the match, which Argentina won 2-0.
Notably, Álvarez wanted to remember his roots on such a special day. "I'm very happy for all the people of Calchín. We have their permanent support," he smiled.
From River to City
Álvarez made his debut in a World Cup qualifier against Chile in June 2021, coming on for Di María during the match, and was part of the winning team at that year's Copa América in Brazil, although he barely played.
He was also on the pitch for the CONMEBOL-UEFA cup of champions, the 'Finalissima' won by Argentina in June 3-0 against Italy in London.
Álvarez is still settling in England, – he arrived mid-season at his new club Manchester City after four years at the top with River Plate. He’s gone from one great coach to another: the 'Spider,' as he is known, had Marcelo Gallardo as his mentor at River Plate and now shares day-to-day life with Pep Guardiola, who has praised the 22-year-old's talent on several occasions.
In the lead-up to the World Cup, Álvarez recounted an anecdote to the press. During a conversation between Manchester City's European team-mates in the dressing room about the World Cup favourites, only teams from their continent were mentioned, until Guardiola intervened to point to Álvarez himself, who had remained silent, as the most likely of those present to win the trophy in Qatar.
The player’s family are in Qatar and his father Gustavo, who was seen wearing the Albiceleste jersey in the stands at Doha's 974 stadium, could not help but weep with emotion at his son's performance against the Poles, a video posted on TikTok by a fan showed.
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