“Baton has been passed” “Inspiring the next generation” - Fans in awe as Lionel Messi exchanges shirts with Chelsea wonder kid

Lionel Messi exchanges shirts with upcoming Chelsea wonderkid (Image via Getty)
Lionel Messi exchanges shirts with future Chelsea wonderkid (Image via Getty)

Lionel Messi exchanged shirts with 17-year-old Ecuadorian wonderkid Kendry Paez after Argentina's 1-0 win against Ecuador in a pre Copa America international friendly on June 9. Paez is set to join Chelsea in the summer of 2025 after he turns 18.

Fans have dubbed the youngster the next Lionel Messi on several occasions and reacted to Messi exchanging shirts and embracing the player on X (formerly Twitter). Users considered it a symbolic passing of the baton and believed it to be an inspiration for upcoming footballers.

"He knew! The baton has been passed"
"Inspiring the next generation" another optimistic fan wrote
"Teaching humbleness to the next generation of players," a fan wrote.
"His future is bright," another chimed in.
"Paez is going straight to the top," a fan opined.
"You know when people look at photos from the past and then look iconic in the future…THIS IS THE ONE," another hoped.
The throne👑 has been passed over," one more commented.

Kendry Paez currently plays for Independiente del Valle and is the youngest debutant and goalscorer in the Ecuadorian top flight at 15 years old. He is also the youngest player to represent the Ecuadorian national team and the second-youngest Latin American player following Diego Maradona to play international football at 16 years and 131 days. The youngster is anticipated to be one of the biggest attractions at the 2024 Copa America.

Lionel Messi believes Argentina is 'always a favorite' to win any tournament

Argentina v Estonia - International Friendly (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Argentina v Estonia - International Friendly (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

In a recent interview with Infobae, Lionel Messi seemed confident about Argentina's chances at the Copa America, claiming the Albiceleste are always favorites to win any tournament they enter.

“I think that Argentina is always a favorite, beyond the fact that we come from winning all that. Previously, when it was not given that we could achieve the objectives, also Argentina was always a favorite," he said.

Messi also mentioned other South American teams who are doing well currently, including Uruguay, Columbia and Ecuador. He believes that the tournament will be an equal one, with all teams having a fair chance at winning the trophy.

“When a championship starts, whether it is the World Cup, Copa America or whatever, Argentina is a candidate just like Brazil and more in this Copa America. But I think that today the South American national teams are very strong. Uruguay is very good, Colombia, Ecuador. Then it becomes very difficult to play all the games, but I think it will be a very equal Copa America,” he said.

Lionel Messi did not start for La Albiceleste in their 1-0 freindly win against Ecuador on Sunday (9 June). The Inter Miami superstar came on as a substitute for Angel Di Maria in the 56th minute. Argentina will next play Guatemala in another pre-tournament friendly on June 14.

The Copa America is set to begin on June 20 for Argentina, who will face Canada in their first match in Group A. Messi and Co. will be looking to grab their third consecutive international trophy, having won the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

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