Liverpool and Arsenal look set to miss out on Universitario striker Andy Polo, as a January move to the Bundesliga looms. What exactly will Wenger and Dalglish be lacking if they don't snare the pacy goalscorer?
Just eight months ago Andy Polo was little more than a promising player in the youth ranks of Peruvian club Universitario. Now, after breaking into the first team at the tender age of sixteen and cementing his place in the starting eleven, he has become one of the hottest up and coming properties in world football, trailed by major European clubs.
It has been a meteoric rise for the young forward nicknamed ‘La Joya’ (the Jewel). Born on the 29th September 1994 to Amador Polo and Marisol Andrade, he grew up in the Lima neighbourhood of Barrios Altas, a poor area despite its close proximity to the Presidential Palace. He joined Universitario, aged nine, in 2004 and made steady progress through the ranks, impressing with both his speed and his ability to strike the ball off either foot.
His first team chance came after some fine performances for Peru in the 2011 South American Under-17 Championship, in which he scored three goals in four appearances despite the team’s group stage elimination. A month to the day after his goal-scoring performance against Uruguay in Peru’s final match of the tournament he was taking to the field alongside his idol Jonah Fano for Universitario in a 1-0 win over Alianza Atletico.
Fano was equally enamoured with his new strike partner and hailed Polo as a star of the future. “He played as if he’d already taken part in 20 or 30 matches for the first team,” he told reporters after the match. “He came, he ran, and was never afraid to take on an opponent - it is definitely worthy of praise. Andy has speed, he’s not that powerful, but that will come in time.”
Fano also described Polo as having “an innate ability to strike the ball with either foot,” something that the young forward displayed to full effect in his second start, breaking onto a ball over the top of the defence, heading the ball forwards and then steering a superb left foot half volley across the goalkeeper into the top corner to put his side 1-0 up against Cienciano. It was an impressive goal, even more so because he is nominally right footed.
It wasn’t just European scouts that saw potential in the young forward though. Peru’s national team coach Sergio Markarian liked what he saw and took an opportunity to take a closer look at Polo’s talents by calling him up to train with the senior squad...
A brief interlude to his senior career saw Polo score three goals as Universitario’s Under-20 side became the inaugural winners of the U-20 Copa Libertadores, but he was soon back in first team action, scoring with a superb long range strike in a 2-0 win over CNI. His goal, along with a generally excellent performance, saw Polo’s name remain among South America’s most popular Twitter trends for 15 hours afterwards.
It was shortly after that showing that a report emerged in the English press linking him with a move to Arsenal. Interestingly, the rumour didn’t originate in the Peruvian media, who simply parroted the report from their English counterparts, but it wasn’t the first time Polo had been linked with a European side - the likes of Olympiakos, Rayo Vallecano, Udinese and Villarreal had previously been mentioned as potential suitors. Ajax, Chelsea and Real Madrid soon followed.
It wasn’t just European scouts that saw potential in the young forward though. Peru’s national team coach Sergio Markarian liked what he saw and took an opportunity to take a closer look at Polo’s talents by calling him up to train with the senior squad ahead of their friendly double header against Bolivia at the end of August. “He understands the game, has very good technique, is well built and has speed,” Markarian commented. “He has everything a good forward needs.”
With so much hype surrounding him it was little wonder Polo’s performances suffered a little in the aftermath of his call-up to the national team. Defenders, wary of his threat, stuck close to him and were very physical in their approach. The surprise factor had disappeared, and with it a little of the naive confidence that had seen him happy to take on all comers in his early appearances eroded, Polo initially struggled to live up to the increased expectation heaped upon his shoulders.
But, in what can only be a promising sign for his future in the game, he bounced back, learnt a few little tricks of his own and again established himself as an integral part of the Universitario starting eleven. Playing as a wide forward, right or left, in a 4-3-3, Polo was the key player in their elimination of Argentine side Godoy Cruz from the Copa Sudamericana, assisting Raul Riudiaz’s goal in the first leg before scoring a vital equaliser of his own in the second.
There are still some deficiencies in his game. His delivery from wide areas is inconsistent and he is prone to making poor decisions in promising positions, but these are things that can easily be worked on and that are unsurprising for a player who has only just turned 17.
Universitario’s crippling financial problems ensure that Polo, Riudiaz, or indeed both of them, will be sold to the highest bidder come January and the team who secures Polo’s signature may well be getting themselves a future thoroughbred. “I put him into the team and he played like a veteran,” his Universitario coach Chemo del Solar recently commented. “I see him having a great future.”
You can follow Nick on Twitter @chewingthecoca
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