Fernando Ovelar has this week become the youngest ever player and goal scorer in Paraguayan footballing history aged just 14.
The backdrop to this stunning achievement makes it all the more remarkable. Having made his senior debut the previous week, Ovelar netted the opening goal in, of all games, Paraguay’s Superclassico. The derby, contested between Paraguay’s two biggest clubs Cerro Porteno and Olimpia, is the country’s most iconic and fiercely contested fixture. Ovelar’s name will now become a permanent part of its folklore.
The current social media trend when someone so incredibly young does something so incredibly impressive is to ask: “what were you doing at…years old?”. But in this case being 14 is such a distant memory for most people that they are unlikely to be able to provide an answer.
The goal itself, a well-executed dink over an onrushing keeper, could easily have been that of a seasoned striker 10-15 years Ovelar’s senior. What struck me most about the goal however was not the quality of the finish, but how remarkably composed Ovelar looked immediately after scoring it. It might be that he was simply in a state of sheer disbelief at the frankly absurd situation he found himself in, but I have genuinely celebrated goals on FIFA with more gusto. Come to think of it, that’s probably many people’s answer to the aforementioned question “what were you doing at 14?”.
Of course, everyone, with the possible exception of Olimpia fans, should be happy for Ovelar. And perhaps even the arch rivals of a team cannot begrudge a goalscorer who is, when all is said and done, a child. To do so would be the footballing equivalent of storming out of the room when your nephew is winning the family’s traditional game of Christmas Monopoly.
Amongst all the talk of fairy-tales and potential superstardom however, there is a serious warning to be heeded for both player and club. In scoring before his fifteenth birthday, Ovelar joins a not-so-elite list of other former young footballing big wigs; Freddie Adu, Martin Odeegard and Mauricio Baldivieso to name a few. The poor fortunes of these players illustrate the fact that the phenomenon of boys playing in a man’s game is always, to some degree, problematic.
The psychological complications which arise as a result of child stars in any given field being given too much too soon are well documented. In sports however, there are also lesser explored issues regarding physicality. Imagine playing five-a-side and putting in a big, Vinnie Jones style tackle on a young teenager who happened to be playing. You would, at the very least, get a few funny looks.
In the modern game where physicality is increasingly emphasised, this is something which should be given due consideration. Players intentionally going out to hurt one another is a happening as old as the game itself, but when there is a 14-year-old involved it seems inherently wrong to do so. This holds true even if the said 14-year-old has the physical presence of a fully-grown man, as is the case with many of today’s young footballing talents.
A boy, two months shy of his fifteenth birthday, scoring in front of 45,000 adoring fans in the midst of an explosive derby day atmosphere is one of those surreal moments which only football provides. The game has a duty to look after and nurture its precocious talent in order to ensure moments like these are not ultimately detrimental to the players themselves. Hopefully this will not be the case with Ovelar. Good luck, Fernando.