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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine eight-year-old prodigy from the southern Andes who could be mistaken as a clone of Lionel Messi may soon be taking the same road to soccer glory as the Barcelona ace.
Claudio Nancufil, small for his age, has become a media sensation since emerging as an unusual talent at the modest Martin Guemes club in the ski resort of Bariloche.
"As soon as he started to play (aged four) he was already different from all the rest of his playmates with regards to technique," club president Marcelo Ernalz said.
"How he takes the ball stuck to his foot, brakes, stops, kicks, scores, shoots on goal, from when he was little he had all these distinct qualities," said Ernalz, who also trains one of the age group teams at his club.
Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have shown interest and the boy could go to Spain for trials in the New Year, according to the Madrid newspaper El Confidencial.
Ernalz told Reuters that Spaniard Manuel Otero, manager of Barcelona-based PR agency Suenos Comunicaciones (dreams communications), visited the Nancufil family in Bariloche when he heard of Claudio's talent and offered to represent them.
"After the Christmas holidays, 'Claudito' (little Claudio) will go to try out with these three Spanish teams and then we'll see what each of them offers us," said Otero, whose agency normally has actors and musicians on its books.
Big Argentine clubs are also interested.
"We've had an invitation from River Plate for him to train for a week with them," Otero added in a report in El Confidencial.
"(The family) are not closing any doors and England could also be a great destination for the player."
Premier League sides Manchester United and Chelsea are reportedly interested in Nancufil, set to be part of a documentary on Argentine football.
"The BBC is preparing documentaries in the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil and with Argentina they want to unite the past, present and future," Otero said.
"For this, they plan to bring together Diego Armando Maradona, Lionel Messi and Claudio Nancufil and with the participation of (World Cup-winning coaches Cesar Luis) Menotti and (Carlos) Bilardo."
Such were the similarities in talent observers saw in Nancufil with Messi at the same age, dribbling past bigger and older boys with ease, that he was called the "Messi of the snows".
"We're happy because both the kid and his family deserve an opportunity like this," Ernalz told Argentina's Cadena 3 in a recent interview.
"He's physically small and had the same growth problems detected in Messi when he was little, and he's getting hormone treatment."
His mother Viviana said Claudio, who is from a humble background with origins in the Mapuche indians of the southern Andean mountain range, could not explain how he played.
"We asked him, how do you do that? And he said, 'I don't know. I just get it in my head and my feet move on their own. It's like that," she told Reuters.
"‘I don't know how I play like that. My legs just go.' That's what he told us," Viviana Nancufil said at pitchside while watching her son play.
"We would kid him about it, we'd say that he ran by remote control," she said laughing, adding that over and above Claudio's talent she wanted a good future for her two sons including 11-year-old Braian.
"That's my dream, that they will always be good people, (Claudio) as a footballer or in any profession."
Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris