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25-Jun-2020, 04:55 am

Luka Romero: Mallorca's 'Mexican Messi' about to be unleashed on La Liga

Luka Romero NxGn

Wearing the famous blue and white shirt of Argentina, he takes up possession in an inside-right position before darting goalwards, dribbling with the ball at his left foot as he ghosts past opposition defenders, his shoulder-length brown hair wafting behind him as he closes in on the 18-yard box.

It is a description many will be familiar with; the vision of a young Lionel Messi yet again leaving anindelible mark on the memories of opponents and supporters alike.

But this is not Messi. This is another.

This is a 15-year-old boy who has been likened to the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for years already. This is a player on whom many Albiceleste fans are already pinning their future hopes. This is a player who is seemingly ready to make his mark on top-level senior football.

This is Luka Romero.

While excitement has been brewing regarding Romero's ability for a number of years, the youngster's level of celebrity has gone to a new heights over the past 10 days after he was named as part of Mallorca's matchday squad for their La Liga clash against Villarreal on June 16.

Having trained with the first-team squad since football came out of its coronavirus-enforced hibernation, Romero's inclusion on the substitutes'bench saw media organisations dig out the record books to confirm that, were he to make his debut, he would become the youngest player in Spanish top-flight history, breaking a record that has been held for 80 years by ex-Celta Vigo defender Sanson.

"We have been watching him since he was 12, but we never wanted to promotehim too early because we also have to be careful," Mallorca assistant coach, Dani Pendin, said in a recent interview."We have seenhim play and hedid incredible things in his age group,but physically he was not fully developed and that could bring him problems when running into seniorplayers.Today you can see in his legs and his body that he begins to fill out.

Romero was again an unused substitute against Leganes three days later, but his time eventually came on Wednesday evening when, at the age of 15 years and 219 days,he emerged on the touchline before making his way onto the pitch for the final nine minutes against Real Madrid.

The son of nomadic Argentine footballer Diego Romero, Luka was born in the Mexican city of Durango while his father was playing for lower league side Alacranes. He moved to Spain at the age of two as Diego continued his career before beginning his own footballing education in the academy of Sant Jordi on the island of Ibiza.

Aged just seven, he was invited to attend a trial with Barcelona, where he impressed the club's scouts with his ability on the ball. His family were not willing to move to Catalunya, however, meaning that the Blaugrana were unable to sign him given FIFA's rules when it comes to acquiring players under the age of 10.

Instead he remained in Ibiza, before his family moved to the island of Majorca as Romero Sr. wound down his own career. Luka was spotted by Mallorca and in 2015 signed up for the then-second division side'sacademy programme as a 10-year-old.

Two years later he would, if you believe the stories, have another Barcelona-related interaction, as he was spotted juggling a football on an Ibizan beach by ex-Blaugrana star Dani Alves. The Brazil international full-back asked if he could join in before telling those who had crowded around to take photographs to "take pictures of him, not me - he is the new Messi".

The Messi comparisons will likely follow Romero no matter which direction his career takes.

Nicknamed 'The Mexican Messi' afterthe land of his birth, Romero has made it clear he wants to represent Argentina at international level despite being eligible for both El Tri and his long-time home, Spain.

"My whole family is Argentine;my dream is to wear the Albiceleste shirt," he said in a statement released by the Argentina Football Association in 2018, and a year later he was called up to represent his country at the Under-15s Sudamericana in Paraguay.

He scored two goals in the tournament before missing a penalty in the shootout as Argentina lost out to Brazil in the final, buthis Messi-esque displays unsurprisingly caught the eye.

"We're talking about a 15-year-old. Doesheplay well? Yes, but his passportsays Luka Romero, not Lionel Messi," argued Alejandro Sagesse, his coach at the tournament.

"He has to make his own story. It is logical that they want to compare him because there are comparisons all the time, whether one agrees or not.This is an excessive comparison, he is being compared to a huge player."

His father, Diego, agrees, having toldEfe: "I don’t like comparisons with Messi. It’s adding massive pressure to a 15-year-old boy.

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"He is Luka, and he has Messi -a unique, dedicated, historic footballer -as a player to learn from."

So if not Messi, then who could he be compared to?

"He is left-footed, fast, elusive andcompetitive," Pendin said when asked to describe his best assets."He isthe prototype of an Argentine No.10, but hereminds me a lot of David Silva."

Romero must now pick his next move carefully. Given his talent, it is unlikely he will stay at Mallorca for too much longer, though they are hopeful of offering him a contract this summer that will kick in once he turns 16 in November.

Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus and Atletico Madrid have all been citedas showing an interest in signing him in the coming months, and it would not be a surprise if Europe's other major clubs got involved too.

Regardless, the Messi comparisons are unlikely to go away. Now it is up to Romero to live up to them.

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