Anderson Moura lays down the rule on the world’s most expensive player of the 21st century thus fair, Vinícius Junior.
Brazilians never think they have enough talent. Many countries can just dream about having one single player who has the ability of Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus or Neymar, but even though none of these players are more than 25 years and still have a lot to win, Brazilians are already thinking about the next big thing. And although these predictions tend to err more than to hit the jackpot, a 17 year old boy is already ahead of his competitors.
Not only because his skills are quite amazing for his age or because his development in Brazilian football is happening at a pretty fast pace, but because Real Madrid believed enough to pay 45 million euros on a player who can only defend the white jersey in two years. Vinícius Junior is the most expensive player born this century and certainly one of the greatest sources of expectation in recent years.
Who is Vinícius Junior?
Born on 12th July 2000, Vinícius used to play football on the streets of São Gonçalo, a city close to Rio de Janeiro, and when he was six his father took him to a Flamengo academy, where the kid was initially admitted as a left-back. Between this age and his tenth anniversary Vinícius played in this academy and was also in another club (Canto do Rio) to play futsal.
Once he decided to play just in the field, his precocious career started to gain some fame when he was called to the Brazil U15 team when he was just 13, thanks to a wonderful Flamengo generation that got renowned for their unbeatable series of 90 games with no loss. This was the first time a rival team tried to approach Vinícius, but he was not seduced by Corinthians.
However, even though he had a wonderful South American U15 Championship in 2015 – scoring six goals – and a good Copa São Paulo last January, the real turning point of his career so far was the 2017 South American U17 Championship. It should be fair to say that Vinícius was elected the best player of the tournament, grabbed the top scorer trophy with seven goals and was also champion with Brazil, but amazingly this would not be enough to describe everything this boy did during those February and March days.
In the first match, against Peru, he had one touch to avoid the defender and a shot with his left foot to open the score. Against Paraguay, Vinícius scored a gorgeous goal with an improbable kick that punished the misplaced keeper, but another point was very important on that goal: after the defender blocked a long ball to him, the Brazilian fought to have it back and only then found the net. When Brazil faced Venezuela the boy showed his killer instinct when the rival goalkeeper could not handle a Yuri Alberto shot and Vinícius was placed at the right place to take the rebound, positioned well as he was in the following game against Ecuador, when he scored twice. His speed and his easiness to run in direction of the goal wherever the running begins could be seen in another two goals scored against Colombia. It is a short tournament, with just nine games, and more importantly, facing players of his age, but you can’t ignore the repertoire presented by him, being a winger on either side, a central attacking midfielder or even a striker. That’s when Real Madrid were sure they could not let this golden nugget escape through their fingers- just like Neymar did some years ago.
Back to Brazil, it was time for Vinícius to bring all of this to the professional level, as he was promoted to the first team. But since he started just four of his 21 games until now, it is more appropriate to say that his good moments were more glimpses of skill, except for two really consistent matches against Ponte Preta (one assist) and Atlético Goianiense (two goals). It is not for nothing that he had more minutes in those games.
It’s more likely that Vinícius will be used just as a winger for some time, since the coach Reinaldo Rueda did not try the boy as a striker when he lost the Peruvian star Paolo Guerrero for injury, but to play wide Vinícius also has heavy competition with Éverton, Éverton Ribeiro, Geuvânio, Gabriel and Orlando Berrío. And to earn some points in this battle Vinícius won an opportunity that did not make Brazilian fans very happy: the club denied releasing him to the FIFA U17 World Cup claiming he is an important member of the squad.
What are his Strengths?
We must have heard of many Brazilian players that were smooth as silk on the ball, but a complete disaster when they had to help the team getting it back, but Vinícius does not thicken this list of lazy players. The boy has no problem to return to the rearguard when he loses the ball and his fullbacks are often more than happy to have his aid. It is a tactical awareness not so common for someone of his age.
Another natural concern when we remember how young Vinícius is should be his emotional state. Imagine you are a young man who can’t even drive a car – in Brazil you can only have a license at 18 – but plays in the Brazilian Serie A for one of the strongest teams. When your friends are still going to school with no idea of what they will do in the future you know that in two years you will be living in Madrid playing for the greatest champions of the UCL. This enormous reality shock could shake his structure, but according to Flamengo professionals, this is not the scenario five months after the millionaire deal was announced. Reinaldo Rueda, the actual Flamengo coach, said: “Vinicius surprised me by his mental control. His move to Real Madrid did not change his behavior. He follows very humble and communicative with his companions”.
This mental strength is indispensable now, but it will be even more necessary when/if his development doesn’t correspond with the price tag. And although everyone knows that Vinícius has no responsibility on this surreal amount of money spent on him, some people can be cruel on the judgement and the boy has to be ready for that. As the Brazilian U17 coach said, ‘He’s a good kid, but he has a lot of mistakes to make’.
His biotype of a natural born football player, with long, fast legs and an incredible stamina, already made a huge impact against youngsters, but as a professional he also demonstrated that the physical part of his game won’t be a problem. He is able to make hard tackles, dashes and whatever the defenders do trying to stop him. He is not so skinny and his height is good for his age (1.77m). He is slim enough to dispute for space and perform slick runs using his shoulders but not too light to lose his balance or the ball at each heavy contact. And things seem to get even better. Real Madrid sends scout Juni Calafat to watch Vinícius progress every 45 days and the last reports shows that Vinícius outperformed all the other athletes in the aerobic tests, with emphasis on the ability to recover himself after efforts. The Spanish newspaper Marca described this with the following headline: “Faster, taller and stronger”.
And last but not least, the flagship of his attributes: the dribbling. The intimacy this Brazilian has with the ball makes us believe he was somewhat of a Oliver Tsubasa when he was a kid. The protagonist of the cartoon Captain Tsubasa was told to do everything with the ball on his side: eat, study, sleep. And this must have been Vinícius’ routine. That’s the only way to explain how well he deals with the ball.
What are his Weaknesses?
Of course everyone thinks that an incredible dexterity to change the pace allied with an abnormal muscle explosion is a formidable combination, and so does Vinícius, but this overconfidence takes him to make wrong decisions sometimes. When he played against boys of his age he had a very useful resource: advance the ball with one long touch – usually to the bottom line direction – and arrive before everyone with enough time to think about his next move. But things will not work like a magic trick so frequently now and Vinícius has to keep this in mind. And he also has to learn when to simplify things. Dazzling dribbling and defenders getting desperate with him are cool montages to watch on Youtube, but one can’t forget that the wrong attempts are not in these videos and sometimes they can be a significant slice. A simple pass is the best option, even because Vinícius is more than a decent passer.
Another good addition to his game would be better positioning to avoid offsides. His impetus to attack and even his high speed that puts him ahead of the defenders may distract and lead him to untimely moves, especially when he faces a high marking defense. These will be two long years for the anxious Real fans and two fast years for Flamengo supporters who are already melancholic with the departure. Let’s hope Vinícius can find the perfect equilibrium between these two units of time to refine his game and arrive in Madrid as ready as the club thinks he will be.
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