The 'other' Endrick looking to fire Malaysia to Asian Cup glory

Joking that he was the 'first' Endrick before the future Real Madrid star, the 28-year-old midfielder will be hoping to help Malaysia give a good account of themselves at the upcoming AFC Asian Cup. Cesar Greco/SE Palmeiras | Arquivo Pessoal

Malaysia open their AFC Asian Cup campaign -- their first time gracing the continental stage since they were co-hosts in 2007 -- against Jordan on Monday.

Looking to advance from a group that includes the formidable South Korea, the Malaysians will have Endrick among their main figures.

Lest you think anything shocking has happened, the Palmeiras star who has already been sold to Real Madrid has not been naturalised as a Malaysian.

This is a different Endrick, who has been involved in football since birth and left Amapá at an early age to become one of the benchmarks in the Southeast Asian country.

"My family has always loved football. I've followed my father since I was a child, he was a professional footballer," the 28-year-old told ESPN Brasil. "He played in the state of Amapá for Independente, for Ypiranga, he was a champion.

"His brothers also played professional football, my mum's brothers also played. So I grew up in a family that breathed football, I always followed games, I always went to the football school.

"I started in futsal and went on to play for schools in my town.

Starting at Bahia, naturalisation and a World Cup dream

Born in Santana, Endrick left the city at the age of 15 to start his football career.

His first steps were at Bahia, where he stayed for six years. And the Tricolor, who are currently going through a new phase under the management of the City Group, has a special place in the midfielder's heart.

"When I was 15 I had the chance to go to Bahia. I made the grade and stayed at the club for six years, so everything I learnt I think was thanks to Bahia," he explained.

"That's where I started in Brazilian football. I played in several championships. I played in the São Paulo Cup, the U-20 Brazil Cup, so Bahia was the big milestone in my career in Brazil.

"I was very happy at Bahia, of course, there were ups and downs like all players, but Bahia helped me a lot in my career."

After being in Malaysia for seven years, Endrick became a naturalised player in 2023 and made his debut for Harimau Malaya last March in a 1-0 friendly win over Turkmenistan.

In his time in Malaysia, he played for Felcra, Selangor and Penang, before joining current club and perennial Super League champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, where he won every domestic title on offer last season.

"I've always been told about the possibility of naturalisation, because I arrived here quite young -- when I was 21," recalled Endrick. "So there was always this idea of possible naturalisation.

"And then, (in 2023) I was naturalised and made my debut for the national team. That year, at Johor, we won every championship there was in the country. I also played in the (AFC) Champions League, I was able to score (and) it was an incredible experience.

While the Asian Cup is on the immediate horizon, Endrick's big dream is to play in the FIFA World Cup -- and the path has been positive.

In the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 edition, Malaysia are currently top of Group D with six points from two games, after beating Kyrgyz Republic 4-3 at home in their opening match and Chinese Taipei 1-0 away.

"The dream has already started. We've won our first two World Cup qualifiers, we're leading our group and we're dreaming," revealed the midfielder, as he highlighted Malaysian fans' passion for the sport and how much recognition they afford to players in the country.

"We know it's very difficult to make it, we've got big competitors whose football is much more developed, but we're making great strides.

"Football here in Malaysia isn't that developed. Now it's starting to grow more but, every national team game, there are 80,000 fans in the stadium and they love football.

"We're constantly stopped in the street to take photos, give autographs, so I think that with this love they have for football. And the way the country is developing the sport, we do have a chance of being at the World Cup."

Being the 'first' Endrick and a message to the rising star

The 28-year-old midfielder joked about being the 'first' Endrick.

While he does not enjoy as much time in the limelight on a global scale, he did have a message to his Palmeiras namesake -- who has already agreed a deal to join Real Madrid when he turns 18, and revealed that the striker is already known in Malaysia.

"Yeah, you could say I'm the first Endrick, right?" he added.

"Wow, I'm very happy to see that there's another one shining too -- a young player who has a very promising future and, in my opinion, is going to be a great No. 9 in world football.

"Some people know him here in Malaysia. Yes, the name isn't that famous yet because people here follow English football mainly, so they aren't as keen on Spanish football.

"But he's already known in Malaysia."

Coming up against Son Heung-Min

For the third and final Group D game on Jan. 25, Malaysia face off against South Korea in a match that could have implications on whether or not they reach the knockout round -- provided they can achieve positive results in their earlier two outings.

The clash could pit Endrick against a certain Son Heung-Min, not just a star in the Premier League with Tottenham but widely regarded as one of the world's best players.

On the subject of potentially coming up against Son, Endrick revealed that he would be keen on swapping shirts with the South Korea captain, but that the main objective would still be to try and beat him.

"We ended up in the same group as South Korea. Honestly, I don't think about it too much, we're more focused on doing a good job with the national team," said Endrick.

"It's just that we've fallen into a difficult group, right? But the focus is on doing a good job with the team and possibly qualifying for the last 16 and, of course, if I have the opportunity to swap shirts with him, I'd be very happy.

"But the focus is really on trying to win the game or at least draw and get as far as possible and give happiness to the Malaysian fans."

A Flamengo fan with dreams of returning to Brazil

After his youth career at Bahia, Endrick also played for Campinense and Ypiranga before heading abroad.

At 28, the midfielder dreams of returning to Brazil, revealing that he previously received offers from Serie B teams and does eventually want to return to Brazil.

While he is a self-avowed Flamengo fan, he is not picky about which team he would want to play for if the opportunity arises.

"I do want to go back to Brazil. I always had expectations (and) there were clubs in the second division making offers," he recounted.

"(Initially) I was more focused on staying here in Malaysia for five years so I could get my passport. Now we'll analyse (the situation) better.

"I'm a Flamengo fan, but I don't have much of a preference. After all, we're professionals, so the aspect of being a fan has to be left until after my career is over.

"So, if we get a good offer, we'll go back to Brazil, regardless of the club. I have no preference and neither does my agent, so we just have to concentrate here and do our best.

"And who knows, maybe I'll be back in Brazil playing in a Brasileirão (championship) in the future."