Precocious Pietro Pellegri hoping to continue rapid ascent at Monaco

When Monaco paid Genoa €25 million for Pietro Pellegri, the 16-year-old striker became the world's most expensive footballer born in 2001. That is not his most impressive record, though, as the young prodigy had shattered some ancient statistics in Italy.

For starters, Pellegri is the youngest-ever debutant in Serie A. When he stepped onto the pitch towards the end of the fixture at Torino in December 2016, the forward was 15 years and 280 days old -- breaking the record of Roma legend Amedeo Amadei who was slightly older when he debuted back in 1937. It is symbolic that Pellegri scored his first goal at Stadio Olimpico last May, and the occasion couldn't have been more emotional.

It was Francesco Totti's farewell game and Roma had to win to qualify directly for the Champions League, but the youngster stole the limelight by finding the net early on his first Serie A start. To put things into perspective, Pellegri was born just two months before Totti celebrated his only Scudetto title. But the veteran won the day as Roma got a dramatic last-minute winner to beat Genoa 3-2.

Genoa also lost by the same scoreline to the other outfit from the Italian capital, Lazio, and Pellegri was responsible for another big slice of history. This time he was playing at home, cheered by the adoring crowd at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, and netted twice in front of the Ultras.

By doing so, he became the youngest player to score a brace in Serie A, at the age of 16 years and 112 days, surpassing the previous record -- which belonged to the great Silvio Piola, who did it in 1931, seven years before leading Italy to a World Cup triumph -- by nearly a year.

"This is a dream come true. I dedicate one goal to the fans and one to my dad," the emotional teenager said after the final whistle, shedding a tear of joy.

His father, Marco Pellegri, wept on the bench when his son celebrated. Once upon a time, Marco had dreamed of representing Genoa himself, but that wasn't to be. Instead, he stayed at his beloved club in different administrative roles. In recent years, Pellegri Sr. was in charge of the Primavera, while last season he was promoted to team manager and assistant coach to head coach Ivan Juric.

The bond between Marco and Pietro is very strong, and the latter even chose the No. 64 -- the year of his father's birth -- to wear on the back of his shirt. Pietro benefited from the fact that the family personally knew club legends, including former captain Marco Rossi, yet there was no nepotism as far as the youngster's meteoric rise is concerned.

Pellegri had always been considered a very bright talent in his own right. He usually played with kids born in 1999 and was invited to train with the first team back in 2015 by then-coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who is famous for nurturing young talent.

Genoa president Enrico Preziosi was so excited that he stated rather bizarrely: "We have got a new [Lionel] Messi, and let us just hope he would keep his feet on the ground."

Comparing a kid to the best player on the planet was not wise, but parallels with the Argentine superstar were ridiculous anyway.

Unlike Messi, Pellegri is a tall striker with a huge presence in the penalty area. He is still growing, which is why his exact height is unclear, differing wildly from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-5, depending on your source. His heading is good but he also possesses a deft touch. Therefore, is natural that Pellegri's role model is not Messi but Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Indeed, he was nicknamed "Zlatan" by his best friend in the Genoa academy, Eddy Salcedo. The Genoese attacker of Colombian origins is half a year younger than Pellegri and is very different in style, idolising Neymar.

Numerous clubs made offers to sign the duo in recent year. Inter Milan were the most persistent and last summer it was reported that a deal was near, but Preziosi refused to lower his asking price of €60m for the pair.

"If you think that is too high, I could reply by saying what others are worth," he said. "Vinicius [Jr.], who is 16, recently signed for Real Madrid for €45m, so what are we complaining about?"

Juventus and Milan then entered the frame. Pellegri looked San Siro-bound in September, then seemed destined to joined the Old Lady, but eventually Monaco stunned everyone, closing a €25m deal after some quick negotiations.

The timing was a bit surprising, because Pellegri had made no headlines in recent months. With Juric fired in November, new Genoa coach Davide Ballardini didn't use the youngster and opted for more experienced players, even though he admired his skills, stating: "Pellegri will grow into one of the best Italian strikers."

It might have been easier to do so at the club he feels part of, but the prospect of joining the Monegasques proved to be too good to turn down.

"This is further proof that our work in recent seasons, the results and the players who have come through in our shirt, are attracting the greatest talents in European football," Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev said.

Clearly, Pellegri dreams of following Kylian Mbappe's footsteps to greatness, and the raw potential is there.

"I don't know for sure if Pietro is capable of becoming a world-class star, but that is possible," Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Francesco Oddi told ESPN FC. "He is very strong, both physically and mentally, and scores a lot of intuitive goals. He should handle the pressure well."

Time is on Pellegri's side, the short distance between Genoa and Monaco will enable the father to visit him frequently, and youngsters generally get more of a chance to shine in Ligue 1 than in Serie A. But it is up to Pellegri to prove himself now.