Football lovers live for the beautiful game. Every year, we hear many new names, new talents, often oversold. The media and fans jump too quickly into comparisons and fantasies about how these new players will change the shape of the game.
However, once every decade, true talent is born. Vinicius Jr was one of them.
His debut with Real Madrid came at the hands of former coach Santiago Solari. During one of the worst seasons of the club, the 18-year-old was the sensation of the year. For a long time, the merengues did not have a player of his characteristics. Ronaldo had become more of a goal scorer than a winger during his late spell at the club. The last dribbler Madrid had was probably Angel Di Maria.
Despite his young age, Vinicius Jr imposed respect. If many of us knew already of his talent, not even the most optimistic ones would have expected him to thrive at a high level so soon.
Europe discovered this young Brazilian. His speed, agility, his confidence in overtaking opponents… he reminded us of Ronaldinho with his smile and beautiful tricks. Most Real Madrid fans forgot about their season, thinking they had at their club the future of Modern football. A new Messi.
“Vini” had it all. And his statistics allowed him and his fans to dream. In La Liga he managed a 60% successful dribble rate, creating at least 15 chances by himself and scoring 2 goals. We saw more of him in Champions League where he pulled off even better statistics in such a short time.
He played four games, with an 80% successful pass rate and an astonishing 70% successful dribble rate. He also managed to score two goals, before an injury kept him out until the end of the season.
It may seem all like a fairy tale but many viewers, including Real Madrid fans, noticed something very peculiar. Vinicius Jr may dribble a whole team, but once in front of goal, he would fail miserably. His finishing was his least polished asset.
Analysts attributed it to his young age, pressure. But it might be the one thing that sets him aside, as goal scoring is a key element in modern football.
The turning point
Under Solari, Vinicius Jr had the most playing time. The Argentinian coach was able to use him with Castilla for a few games, where he saw the immensity of his talent before they both made their way up to the first team.
Sadly, at his best level, injury stopped his run. Vinicius tore his calf ligament during the tie against Ajax which saw Madrid out of the Champions League’s second round. He was sidelined for nearly two months. By the time he came back, a lot had changed, including the coach.
Zinedine Zidane took over Real Madrid for the last 12 games of the campaign. Vinicius came back with 4 games left to play in La Liga, but he only took part in the last two. Thus, his chances to play in the Copa America for his country faded away, despite Neymar Jr’s forfeit.
With the new start of the season, Real Madrid fans were eager to see their future star at play. But none of that has happened so far.
During preseason, he barely took part in any of the games. He played 25 minutes against Arsenal, one half against Atléti and another one against Bayern Munich, in addition to a few minutes here and there, failing to be decisive in any of the games. It should also be pointed out that Zidane tried him at the right flank, in order to try to fit him into a team with Hazard as a left-winger.
Sadly, what is alarming about Vinicius Jr is the sudden drop in his level. Four games into la Liga, with Eden Hazard injured for the start of the season, it was thought to be a golden opportunity for the young Brazilian. But we saw none of that magic.
Junior looks slower, less confident, less decisive. We saw him struggle at one-on-ones, often even losing the ball and opening up his team to counter attacks. Under half of his dribbles are successful, and his finishing is still worryingly non-existent. The media try to pin this change on Zinedine Zidane- saying he does not like Vinicius’s style, or that he doesn’t believe he has what it takes. The Frenchman denies any such thing and constantly repeats that he considers him the future of the club.
The truth is, there was a before and after the injury he had sustained against Ajax. Real Madrid fears they will live the same scenario they once had with Jesé. The Spaniard was hailed by the fans and the media before an injury, again in the Champions League, sent him down the abyss.
At 19 years of age, Vinicius is still at the start of his career. The pressure can be enormous when you play for Real Madrid. Sadly, a new talent has surfaced this year at rival club FC Barcelona. Ansu Fati scored two goals in his 2 first games with the Blaugrana, already positioning himself as the nemesis of the Brazilian.
With the season well underway, many of our questions will be answered. Is this just a difficult phase for the young kid, or did his flame die out already? For us football lovers, the answer would be a delight to watch.