Preston’s 16-year-old Brazilian who scored five in one game: ‘He’s the perfect storm’
In January 2020, the parents of Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile swapped the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo for a new life in Liverpool.
They moved for work, but doing so also opened doors for their son.
Rodriguez-Gentile, now aged 16, has been impressing in Championship club Preston North End’s academy and has been linked with Manchester United and Liverpool.
Few people had heard his name three months ago — but that was before he scored five goals in an FA Youth Cup tie against Rotherham United just before Christmas.
His spectacular hat-trick goal, curled into the top corner from outside the box, underlined his quality.
Eyebrows were raised. The spotlight was shining on the Brazilian teenager.
Rodriguez-Gentile then scored the equaliser in a 2-1 win away to Gillingham in the fourth round.
Now his focus is on helping Preston past Luton Town at Kenilworth Road tonight (Monday) and into the quarter-finals next month.
So, just how did a Brazilian boy end up playing for Preston?
The answer involves Huyton Juniors — a club formed in Liverpool in 2008.
Rewind three years and the newly arrived Rodriguez-Gentile was bedding into life on Merseyside with his family, attending Merchant Taylors’ Boys’ school in the Crosby area of the city.
It was there that he struck up a friendship with a boy called Toby, who he played football with in PE lessons and for the school team. It was obvious he was talented, so Toby suggested he come along and join his Sunday League team, Huyton Juniors, who play in Liverpool’s Jubilee Park.
“From the off, you could tell he had ability,” says Andy Wallace, his former manager at Huyton. “After a few sessions I had to ask him if he was right- or left-footed.
“You could tell he had played futsal. He was technically gifted, good on the ball, his touch and his ability to shoot from distance and different angles was not something you saw from many.”
He could already speak fairly good English when he arrived and it improved as time went on. “He even developed a Scouse twang,” Wallace says.
There were some elements he had to get used to.
“He absolutely hated the weather — hated it,” says Wallace. “The pitches, too — he was getting used to playing on bogs in torrential conditions. Then there’s the physicality, I remember in one of his first games he came off at half-time and said to me, ‘It is very rough’.”
Jubilee Park Jubilee Park in Liverpool, the home of Huyton Juniors (Photo: Andrew Jones) His physicality was an area Wallace, with assistants Paul Jones and John Cavanagh, wanted to improve — as well as Rodriguez-Gentile’s tactical understanding.
“He liked to dribble with the ball and hold on to it, but at the standard level we were at, if you held on to it too long someone would either get the ball or get you,” says Wallace.
“We also looked at his positioning — trying to help him find space and make it difficult to mark him, and identify which centre-back to target and exploit.”
Rodriguez-Gentile played for two teams, Huyton Juniors Celtic on Saturdays and Huyton Juniors PSG on Sundays. Each summer, Wallace gathers his team for classroom sessions, hosted in the pavilion at Jubilee Park, where they would go into more detail on tactics, shape, awareness and positioning.
“Felipe was always really inquisitive, never afraid to ask and would share his thoughts,” Wallace says. “You could see him taking everything in, the art of pressing as a striker to prevent ball progression and spotting pressing triggers and communicating with his wide players. Then we’d go out and try to replicate it in sessions and games.”
Rodriguez-Gentile’s passion was obvious. “He’s a born winner. He doesn’t like losing,” says Wallace.
For his team-mates, it became a weekly challenge to try to beat him. Wallace used him as an example. The teenager’s attitude was infectious, raising the standards of those around him.
There was no attitude or ego, though — no complaints if he was substituted.
“That’s not always the case in grassroots football,” says Wallace. “I brought him off once and he asked if he could go back on. I said he could but at centre-back. Straight away, he was up for it. There was no arrogance, just a desire to play.”
In his only full season with the club, 2020-21, Rodriguez-Gentile was crucial in retaining the Merseyside and Halewood League championship, scoring twice in a game against title rivals Huyton Rangers. He had been part of the side which finished top the previous season, when their campaign was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rodriguez-Gentile, far right, with his Huyton team-mates after winning the title (Photo: Huyton JFC) Rodriguez-Gentile’s confidence grew and, at the start of last season, Wallace noticed he had gone up a level in terms of ability. Other kids’ parents regularly commented he wouldn’t be around at that level much longer.
Liverpool, early last year, were the first professional club to express interest. Rodriguez-Gentile was invited for a trial with their academy but was unsuccessful.
Preston, currently mid-table in the Championship and just under an hour’s drive to the north, offered him a chance instead.
“We were all made up for him when his dad gave us the call to let us know they had signed him — although I was secretly gutted because we’d been going so well in the league and he’d played a big part,” Wallace says.
Felipe’s father, Fernando, is an advocate for grassroots football and has stayed in touch with Huyton Juniors.
“His parents are fantastic role models and a large part of why he has such a fantastic attitude towards football and his education,” Wallace says.
“They take the approach with him that football is a privilege, which means respect and hard work are the minimum expectations. He’s a product of their work ethic and attitude.”
Realising the talent they had unearthed, Preston made sure they secured the Brazilian youngster’s services when he turned 16 in October, pre-agreeing a two-year scholarship which will begin in the summer.
Their first-team manager, Ryan Lowe, has played down expectations but confirmed the plan is for Rodriguez-Gentile to train with his squad at some stage this season.
“He’s the perfect storm — great ability and attitude plus the people around him to ensure he stays focused and grounded,” says Wallace. “His ceiling, in my opinion, is what he wants it to be, and I’m extremely excited to see what levels he can achieve in the game.”
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