Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira Júnior. Remember the name, if you can that is. The precocious 17-year-old from São Gonçalo – a suburb of Rio de Janeiro – shocked the entirety of football when he became the world’s most expensive teenager at just 16 years of age, after Spanish giants Real Madrid parted with £39.6m to capture the youngster’s elusive talents.
As unbelievable as that previous snippet of information is, what makes it all the more perplexing is the fact that Los Blancos pounced for the boy just 11 days after he had made his professional debut for Flamengo, which just begs the question, why?
Well, after missing out on Seleção stars Neymar Júnior and Gabriel Jesus to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively, club president Florentino Pérez felt that the repercussions of losing out on another one of Brazil’s biggest prodigies to a global rival could be monumental.
Pérez swooped in early for Flamengo’s biggest talent on the guidance of his youth coaches, who stated that a player like Vinícius only comes around ‘once every ten or 20 years’, and went to ‘extreme lengths’ to poach the attacking virtuoso from Real’s rivals.
Neymar, now of Paris Saint-Germain, the world’s most expensive player and incidentally Vinícius’ idol reportedly sent the then 16-year-old numerous messages glorifying the prospect of a transfer to Barcelona, with a move to the Nou Camp presumably being of interest to the boy who has openly stated his preference to Lionel Messi over Cristiano Ronaldo.
What lengths Pérez went to exactly remain to be told, but whatever they were seem to have done the trick, with the Flamengo superstar set to arrive at the Santiago Bernabéu for the summer of 2018 once he becomes 18, where he is expected to begin life in the Spanish capital playing for the second string team, Real Madrid Castilla.
On the contrary, for all the hype around a player dubbed the ‘regeneration of Romário’, there comes the harsh reality. Vinícius has played just 26 senior games for Flamengo, scoring three goals. Undoubtedly, if you were to go onto YouTube and punch in just the letters ‘Vinc’, a whole host of suggestions appear before you.
‘Vinícius Jr – The Next Messi’. ‘Vinícius Jr – The Next Romário – Skills, Goals, Assists’. Admittedly, if you were to go ahead and click on any of the aforementioned, you too would become swallowed by the abyss of hype; watching endless loops of this adolescent Brazilian running rings around his peers.
The, as previously stated, harsh reality being that if you were to watch the 17-year-old in the flesh without the luxuries of editing, you would see although he is special, he is still just a post pubescent footballer finding his way in the game, attempting to justify an exorbitant record-breaking fee before he can ever legally enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
Vinícius’ potential issues that he may face are seemingly being foreshadowed by another teenage star; Kylian Mbappé. The PSG forward, who next summer will become the second most expensive player of all time when his season-long loan deal at the Parc des Princes becomes permanent, has been in world class form consistently for almost a year now, even prompting the Ligue 1 side to shell out £166m for him.
Despite this, for all he has achieved at just 18 years of age – winning Ligue 1, the Golden Boy award, and making the Champions League Team of the Season – the media have jumped on the teenager for merely a string of under par performances for the Parisians of late, with reports going as far to suggest that he may be dropped for the upcoming Champions League clash with Anderlecht.
All of this commotion around the Frenchman just goes to show that Vinícius will be under the microscope from the second he steps foot in Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane and Pérez must make it their mission to shield the boy from the media spotlight if they want him to emulate the likes of Neymar and Jesus in the slightest, and for all his undoubted potential and ability, the leeches that are the footballing media can suck the potential and confidence out of anybody if they try hard enough.
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