Kluiverth Aguilar - Beacon of hope for under-explored Peruvian football

Kluiverth Aguilar will join Manchester City next year and in doing so shine a new light on talent emerging from Peru, an undertapped source.

Kluiverth Aguilar with Man City scout Carlos Santoro (L) and head of recruitment Gary Worthington (R).   -  Twitter: @GBG_Uruguay

While its white jersey with the red sash may be iconic in world football, Peru certainly isn't considered by the layman as a hotbed of talent.

Peru's Primera Division is seen as something of a retirement home for its former national team players who have been in second-tier leagues, like Mexico's Liga MX or MLS, while exports aren't exactly aplenty.

Peruvian newspaper El Comercio counts just 47 Peru natives playing abroad, while they also believe these players highlight the main issue for the country in terms of development; very few are defenders.

And that, for some, is what makes Manchester City's purchase of Kluiverth Aguilar, a 16-year-old right-back from Alianza Lima, all the more encouraging.

Causing a stir

Aguilar's rise to prominence has been swift, as Peruvian journalist Diego Montalvan explains to Stats Perform: "The first time I became aware of Aguilar was after all the talk about a Peruvian kid that had been the best full-back in the South American Under-17 Championship last year."

However, Aguilar had already been causing a stir in youth football before that tournament, which took place across March and April. He played that competition – hosted in Peru – having sparked a little controversy in joining Alianza Lima a month prior.

Sporting Cristal were under the impression he was their player, having impressed with his local side Regatas, but Alianza exploited the lack of a formal agreement to make Aguilar theirs, and that resulted in accusations of disloyalty. It soon became clearer why Sporting were so angry.

Despite being only 15 at the time, making him among the youngest players at the tournament, Aguilar was a standout performer for a Peru side that made it to the second group stage, only to narrowly miss out on a place at the Under-17 World Cup.

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Tall, quick, tenacious and technically sound, Aguilar's performances went down particularly well at Alianza.

The team swiftly moved him up to its reserve team and that was quickly followed by promotion to the senior selection, even being named in the squad for two Copa Libertadores games.

"He's adapted very well since his debut with Alianza, being thrown into the semi-final and final of the 2019 season, he played as if he had been a regular starter all season," Diego adds of the teenager.

Out of the blue?

While the signing may have raised some eyebrows in England, Diego is adamant Alianza weren't surprised by such a deal so soon. "I don't think it's a surprise to Alianza at all that he's moving to a big club," he said.

"Peruvian media have always talked about his potential in a positive light because, so far, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. Negatives being that he's young and still needs to perfect his craft, his defensive positioning also needs to be worked on.

"He's an offensive minded right-back that combines speed and stamina to overlap and cross, or use his speed to open up space, dribble, create chances and even cut inside to shoot. The way he plays reminds me of Dani Alves, although he still has a lot to learn and master to get to his level."

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As it turns out, the transfer to City had been over a year in the making. The Premier League champions had – according to Alianza's head of youth recruitment, Jaime Duarte – been in Peru for the youth tournament and decided as long ago as that to sign Aguilar.

"It was impressive because there was a sea of scouts from all over the world," Duarte told Libero. "Man City has a headquarters in Brazil and there is a manager [Carlos Santoro] who covers all of South America. He had come to Lima and he tells one of their chiefs [Gary Worthington, head of player recruitment], I think Pep Guardiola's right-hand man, to take a plane to Peru to see a 15-year-old.

"Scouts always look at the Brazilian, Argentinian and Uruguayan full-backs, but Kluiverth was rated the best South American full-back, and then came the approach with his manager. From there he was already [gone]."

According to the Peruvian media, Worthington only needed to watch for "a few minutes" before approving a move.

The long road

Aguilar's very being is clearly heavily influenced by football - the names of he and his brothers, Diego Armando and Rijkaard, all carry obvious inspiration rooted in their father's love for the game.

That has certainly rubbed off on Aguilar, who is clearly a fine talent for his age. But however talented he may be, the route to the City first-team will likely be long and arduous, assuming he is a success – and that's no guarantee for a 16-year-old.

Aguilar will join up with City next May when he turns 18. From there, his future becomes a little cloudier as one considers his next steps. Will he be expected to develop in the reserves? Can he force his way into first-team reckoning ahead of the 2021-22 season? Or will he just become engulfed by the City Football Group machine and be bandied around between clubs?

It seems the best indicator as to City's plan for Aguilar - or 'Cyborg', as he's known to some team-mates - is to consider Yangel Herrera, the Venezuelan talent the club plucked from relative obscurity in 2017.

Since then, the defensive midfielder has spent two seasons on loan with sister club New York City, half a year in LaLiga with Huesca before returning to Spain's top-flight this term with Granada, where he has impressed.

Fortunately, Aguilar appears switched-on and humble, acknowledging spells away from City are likely, telling Alianza's club channels: "At the moment I think first of being a champion with Alianza and if later City want to train me in other clubs, I will do so to be able to reach the first team."

The value of the transfer is shrouded in uncertainty, with Alianza insisting they received significantly less than the $2.8million fee being reported, but with an apparent 30 per cent sell-on, there's every chance this deal will eventually go down as the biggest in domestic Peruvian football history.

Regardless of how Aguilar's career progresses in England, one thing is clear; his move is a major boost for Peru, an undertapped source in football.

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