On 3rd November 1991, a group of armed soldiers descended on a neighbourhood barbecue in the Barrios Altos region of Lima, Peru.
The squad was part of the anti-terrorist program organised by the country’s prime minister at the time, Alberto Fujimori. They were there to eliminate members of a rebel group known as the Shining Lights, but ended up slaughtering 15 innocent people, including an eight-year-old boy.
The attack and, subsequent cover up, is seen as a symbol of the human rights violations perpetrated by Fujimori during his time in power and the neighbourhood is still best known for the killings.
However, while the victims of the attack will never be forgotten, the prodigious talents of a young footballer from the area may eventually overshadow its tragic notoriety.
Andy Polo was born in the impoverished confines of Barrios Altos in 1994. Despite the poor surroundings, the neighbourhood is part of a city rich with football culture.
Lima, the capital of Peru, is home to a quarter of the teams that currently play in the Peruvian Primera Division. Of the 19 winners of the competition, only five have come from outside of the capital, the most recent of which was Juan Aurich. When they beat Alianza Lima in the championship decider last year, Juan Aurich became the first non-Lima-based winners since Union Huaral, in 1989.
The most successful team in the history of Peruvian domestic football is the Lima club Universitario. It was La U who signed Polo in 2004 at the age of 10. Almost eight years on, Polo is now considered one of Peru’s most talented prospects.
Having impressed at youth level at Universitario, he made his first team debut for the club last season, aged just 16, and scored a first senior goal in his next appearance.
In September of last season, the budding starlet made his debut in intercontinental football in the Copa Sudamericana. In the first round of the finals of the competition, Polo hit the back of the net, a strike that helped La U progress past their Argentinian opposition Godoy Cruz.
Polo continued his development at junior level too and helped the Universitario under-20 team win the under-20 version of Copa Libertadores. The striker, who can also operate on the wing, finished as the team’s top scorer with three goals.
In total, Polo made 25 first team appearances last season, including playing a pivotal role in La U’s Clasico victory against Alianza Lima.
The young striker led the line brilliantly in that game: although he missed a clear one-on-one opportunity, his raw pace and intelligent movement stretched the opposition defence and he was able to hold the play up and create goalscoring opportunities for team-mates with excellent close dribbling skills.
For all his speed, strength and skill, however, what really stood out in Polo’s performance was his maturity. Although the general level of play in the Peruvian top flight is someway short of world class, the passion and expectancy of the fans is as fierce as anywhere.
Against the backdrop of the reverberating roars of the crowd and the looming walls of the vast Estadio Monumental, Polo showed that he had the composure needed to perform in one of the most intimidating arenas in Peru.
This season the 17-year-old has made a further 13 appearances for the senior side and, although intercontinental football has been missing this term, his development has been aided by the dire financial situation of his club.
A lack of funds has meant that Nolberto Solano, the returning Universitario idol who joined the club as manager halfway through this season, has had to be creative with his squad. This has seen a tactical switch, with Polo moving to the left to play as an inside forward and even, at times, a left midfielder.
While Polo’s strike rate has fallen with this positional change, it is allowing him to develop other parts of his game. Playing further down the pitch, the young Peruvian is able to use his tight control and strength to cut infield to either link up play or drive towards goal and shoot.
Although an unfamiliar role for Polo, he has taken to it without complaint and has demonstrated a great willingness to track back and help the Universitario left-back Aurelio Saco Vertiz.
However, the same lack of funds that are moulding him as a player at Universitario are also the reason that his development at the club will soon be at an end.
Earlier this year, Polo signed for Serie A side Genoa for $1.5M. He will remain at La U until the end of the current Peruvian season in December, by which time he will be over 18 and eligible to move.
The transfer is supported by many La U fans, who hope that Polo will be able to make a success of himself in Europe and do Peru proud. However, his showing in the Clasico last season, the performance that really endeared him to the Universitario faithful, also carried a tale of caution.
In the opposite side that day was Johnnier Montano. The stocky 29-year-old Colombian made his international debut 14 years ago aged 15 and moved to Serie A to play for Parma a year later. The move did not go to plan, however, and Montano struggled to break into the first team.
His last international appearance came in 2003 and the itinerant career that has followed since he left the Italian outfit in 2004 is one indicative of a player who has failed to fulfill their early promise.
Polo will need to continue to demonstrate the mentality that he has shown so far in his career to make his move a success. If he can do this, however, then Serie A may be the perfect league for him to continue to develop the tactical part of his game that will enhance his undoubted raw talent.