5 months ago, Real Madrid’s €46 million investment from Flamengo was on the verge of entering his third season at the club, off the back of making 10 goal contributions in 47 appearances in 20/21. Vinícius Jr. was set to play under his fourth manager since he first set foot in Spain, the iconic Carlo Ancelotti. Expectations were understandably low for the 21 year old, whose Real Madrid career was characterised by his poor end product and decision-making until that point, but Vinícius Júnior was on a mission.
The 21/22 season started with Eden Hazard expected to get back to his best and leave his injury troubles behind him, partly due to the return of fitness coach Antonio Pintus. The Belgian started the first two league games of the season for Real Madrid contributing with an assist, but Vinícius made a more significant impact with his cameos off the bench. Against Deportivo Alavés, he converted a cross from David Alaba in the 92nd minute to mark the Austrian’s first assist in Real Madrid colours, and against Levante he was even more influential. His two goals would help the team salvage a point at the expense of the Granotas.
The Brazilian’s performances would warrant him a place in Ancelotti’s starting eleven in the following league game, against Real Betis. ‘Vini’, as he is nicknamed, did not contribute with a goal nor an assist, but after his performance, it was clear that he was the left winger Madrid could move forward with.
Ever since, Vini has been an undisputed starter, and one of the most important players for Los Blancos. With Karim Benzema, he has formed what is arguably the best duo in the world at the moment, as both have contributed to nearly 40 goals already. And it’s nothing like the infamous Kwame Brown and Kobe Bryant 63 points meme, as the Brazilian has netted 12 times in La Liga, twice in the Champions League and got himself a goal in the Spanish Super Cup: not to mention he’s picked up 7 assists on the way. Considering last season he was averaging 0.2 goals per 90 in La Liga, while now he averages more than triple of that, he has clearly come a long way.
Nonetheless, like most Brazilian wingers, it isn’t his numbers alone that make Vini special. His dribbling ability is up there with the best in the world and he has the speed and skills to beat two, three players which creates space and opportunities, and rarely gives away the ball.
Ancelotti has been heavily credited for Vini’s turnaround, but the calibre of players on Real Madrid’s left flank, supporting the Brazilian, cannot be overlooked either. Ferland Mendy and Toni Kroos have been excellent partners for him, complementing his movements and runs with sheer excellence. David Alaba too. Despite the fact that the Austrian has played in central defence, he has a tendency to take the risk of joining the attack. In addition, he has also supplied Vinícius with some inch-perfect passes for Madrid this season.
So he has been fairly well supported and helped to get where he is today, but he owes his improvement in large part to himself. A year ago he was a victim of utter scrutiny, “On my mother’s life”, mockery and a literal meme in the football world, but he never let any of it get the better of him and focused on making progress. We’ve seen many players his age, some with even more potential, fail to make the cut because of the pressure and criticism they were under, and there exists no greater critics than those at the Bernabéu, making his come up exemplary.
But if there’s one thing I can say Vinícius hasn’t changed since last year, it has to be his character. Be it against Gerard Piqué in El Clásico or Trent Alexander-Arnold in a replay of the 2018 Champions League final, he has never been afraid to speak his mind, get into fights and defend himself. He’s also never afraid to confront fans, as shown earlier this season at the Camp Nou, and whenever he’s on the pitch, be it for 90 minutes or 30, his determination to make an impact is as clear.
Vinícius is destined for a career at Madrid as bright as his smile whenever he celebrates a goal – even if it isn’t scored by him. Reports from Spain suggest that Real Madrid are planning to offer him a big contract offer in the summer, and some have even started waxing lyrical about a potential trio consisting of him, Erling Håland and Kylian Mbappé next season. Only time has the answer as to whether this will truly happen, but a certainty is that Vinícius has well and truly come of age at Real Madrid.
Written by Enzo Karema | Feature Image taken by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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