Imagine being 17-years-old and having such talent on the soccer field that the United States and Mexico are battling for your services.
Then imagine having one of the most iconic players of all time as your mentor at the club level.
That's life for Efrain Alvarez, the LA Galaxy wunderkind midfielder, who was the subject of a new feature from ESPN FC's Tom Marshall that delves deep into the young attacker's rapid rise to the national scene.
Marshall starts with the relationship between Alvarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — the Galaxy's superstar Swedish striker who recognized Alvarez's skills early and has taken him under his wing since joining the club. It's a bromance that has been documented before, but this is the money quote that gives a new glimpse into just how highly Ibrahimovic rates his new protege.
"[Zlatan] is such a cool guy," Alvarez told ESPN FC. "Since I met him the first day, he always wanted to help me. I met him and he started giving me advice, and once you hear advice from him, you want to learn. He knows what it takes.
"He even said, 'If you need help, I'll help you; I just want the best for you. I know the potential you have, so I'm coming to help you. I'm not coming to hurt or damage you. Other players, I will kill them, but with you I see potential, so I'm trying to help you."
The story also digs into Alvarez's decision on whether he will represent the US or Mexico at the international level. While Alvarez switched to Mexico in 2016 and has represented them at the U-15 and U-17 levels since, according to his father Chencho Alvarez, the United States is still making a play to get his son to switch back.
While Chencho admitted his personal preference would be for Efrain to continue representing El Tri, he also said that the decision is ultimately up to his son and he would respect whatever he chooses.
"If he says Mexico, it is Mexico. If he says the United States, it's the United States — and I say it with all the pain in my heart," Chenco said. "I prefer Mexico because I am Mexican, but my son has his roots here, he was born here.
"At the end of the day you respect both, but it's what you want for yourself. You're going to talk to your family about it and see what they like and what they didn't like, and at the end of the day, it's the player's decision."
The whole feature is well worth a read. Check it out here.