Abel Ruiz has many suitors, but staying at Barcelona might suit him best
There are two very obvious idols for the thousands of teenage footballers vying for a place among the elite in the modern game: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Abel Ruiz, though, is not like most young footballers. If you were to ask him to name two football geniuses, he probably wouldn't say Messi and Ronaldo. He would say Robert Lewandowski and Marco Van Basten.
Ruiz is the latest player from Barcelona's La Masia academy to attract a lot of attention. The 17-year-old scored the last-minute winning goal as Spain beat France to make the Under-17 World Cup quarterfinals earlier this week. Even before then, he was linked with a move to a number of Premier League clubs.
Barca have lost some of their brightest prospects this year because of a perceived lack of opportunities with the first team, with Jordi Mboula leaving for Monaco and Eric Garica moving to Manchester City.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City, according to Diario Sport, are all following Ruiz, although the teenager so far has opted to remain where he is, with the aim of one day leading the line at Camp Nou.
Ruiz is not your typical Barca player. The Catalan club have become known for producing some of the world's most promising talent, but Ruiz is a different type of player. Measuring just under 6 feet, he's a centre-forward who is very clear about what type of centre-forward he is.
"I'm a more direct player, a good finisher," he told Diario Sport earlier this year when asked to explain his style. "I hold the ball well with my back to goal and I consider myself a complete forward. I focus on what Lewandowski does, because I think he's the most complete forward there is. For me, he's the best No. 9 in the world at the moment."
Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski is not the only player Ruiz has been watching for tips, either.
"I've been told a lot of times that I remind people of Van Basten," he added. "I've seen videos of him; he was a great player."
Being a tall, strong forward has had its advantages. Plucked from Valencia as a 12-year-old in 2012 after impressing in a youth tournament, he's raced through Barca's academy, always playing among older age groups until this season, when he was promoted to the club's B team.
He is the youngest player in Gerard Lopez's squad, but he's not just making up the numbers. In September, he became the first player born in the year 2000 or later to score in the Spanish second division when he netted the equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Granada.
That progression with Barca has been mirrored with Spain. Earlier this year, he scored four goals in the European Under-17 Championship, including a late equaliser against England in the final. He also scored a penalty in the shootout as Santiago Denia's side were crowned champions.
Ruiz -- along with Barca teammates Juan Miranda, Sergio Gomez and Mateu Morey -- is now looking to add a World Cup to that European Championship, with Iran to come in the last eight in India on Sunday.
When he returns to Barcelona, talks might begin over a new contract, too. As things stand, he has a buyout clause of €3 million written into his terms, which expire in 2019. Mundo Deportivo reports that the club are keen to change that, especially since Juventus' name was added to the list of Ruiz's admirers.
Following the losses of Mboula and Garcia in the summer, Barca moved quickly to give new deals to Marc Cucurella and Carles Alena to avoid any more departures. Given his form and his place in the B team, it's logical that Ruiz will be offered a new contract soon.
What then follows is difficult to predict. First, he will have to prove himself on a regular basis in the B team, but there could be an opening in the first team sooner than later.
Luis Suarez is 31 in January and his form has been inconsistent this season, while Paco Alcacer's lack of minutes suggests he is not to Ernesto Valverde's tastes. It's unlikely Ruiz will be the answer this season, but his route to the first team does not look very congested, which has not been the case for the majority of Barca's youngsters in the last five years.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.