His mother watched his record-breaking top flight debut with apprehension, but the world’s youngest professional soccer player, Bolivian schoolboy Mauricio Baldivieso, says he can take the heat.
“There’s no age for football. I am determined to make it, 200 percent,” Baldivieso said, as he prepared to celebrate his 13th birthday on Wednesday, three days after making his debut for top flight side FC Aurora.
“He’s very mature and a down to earth lad. He’s definitely ready,” said his father, Aurora coach and former Bolivia international Julio Cesar, who sent him on for the final eight minutes of a 1-0 loss to FC La Paz.
Mauricio, who joked that “playing on Sunday was my perfect birthday present,” has been deluged by local media since donning the sky blue of Aurora, based in the central city of Cochabamba, for the first time.
Now he has set his sights high.
“My father is my hero. But one day I want to play in Spain or England — for Real Madrid or Manchester United,” Mauricio said.
“I’m really dreaming about that,” he said, adding Inter and Argentina’s Boca Juniors are his other favorite teams.
Against La Paz, he showed several silky touches — until he was clattered by opponent Henry Alaca.
“I tackled him as I would any other player — I didn’t know he was 12,” Alaca said.
Julio Cesar rejects any idea he is blooding Mauricio too early.
“My lad has talent. Psychologically, he is very strong despite his tender years,” insisted the 37-year-old who made his own club debut at 15 for city rivals Wilstermann.
“I put him on as he was ready, it’s as simple as that. It was historic,” added Julio Cesar, who had a two-year spell in Japan’s J-League in the late 1990s with Yokohama Marinos.
“His mother was very nervous. A bit afraid,” admitted Julio Cesar, nicknamed “The Emperor.”
Playing a pre-teen — even for just a few minutes — has caused controversy, however.
“It is irresponsible to field a boy who isn’t mentally and physically prepared,” one coach said, requesting anonymity, while newspaper La Razon asked if it wasn’t “risky” to play someone so young.
Julio Cesar blasted the doubters after Mauricio eclipsed the record of Fernando Garcia, who played for Peruvian first division side Juan Aurich aged 13 and 11 months in 2001.
“There have been some bad comments. There’s a lot of envy out there. But we can deal with it,” Julio Cesar said.
“Of course it’s impossible for him to play 90 minutes as yet. We shall prepare him gradually,” said Baldivieso senior, a full international at 19.
Mauricio insists he is ready.
“I was so excited to get on,” he said in a telephone interview in fluent English. “I was a little nervous but my confidence flooded back once I got onto the pitch.”
A Bolivian Football Federation spokesman said Mauricio was free to play.
“The Bolivian league does not have a minimum — or a maximum — age in its regulations so if he is fit to play then there is no obstacle,” he said.
Meanwhile, FIFA noted its “regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players do not contain specific provisions with regard to the age a player needs to have in order to compete in a national competition,” referring the issue back to the national federation.
Meanwhile, Mauricio is now a celebrity at school.
“My classmates were really emotional — they’re really happy and proud of me,” he said.