Thursday 15 November 2018

Real Madrid splash out €45m to sign 16-year-old Brazilian star

Brazil´s Vinicius Junior poses with the best player trophy in the South American U-17 football tournament in Rancagua, some 90 km south of Santiago de Chile on March 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI
Brazil´s Vinicius Junior poses with the best player trophy in the South American U-17 football tournament in Rancagua, some 90 km south of Santiago de Chile on March 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI

Luke Brown

When asked to deliver an assessment of his 16-year-old striker Vinícius Júnior – a player who has been described as both ‘the next Neymar’ and ‘the next Robinho’ depending on who you listen to – Brazil’s Under-17 coach Carlos Amadeu paused for a moment, before choosing his words very carefully.

“He's a promise, but we shouldn't go overboard,” he began, no doubt disappointing several journalists already planning their profiles on Brazilian football’s next big thing.

“He's a good kid, but he has a lot of mistakes to make and I just hope people are patient with him. If he stays focused despite all the glamour surrounding him, he can get to a really high level.”

The advice of Amadeu, a man who clearly has the best interests of Vinícius at heart, was crystal-clear: keep a watchful eye on the teenage talenet, but do not burden his young shoulders with unnecessary and unfair expectation just yet. 

But then Real Madrid have never really been in the business of listening to the opinions of other people. Ignoring Amadeu’s advice as well as the seemingly insignificant fact that he is yet to play a single minute of senior football, Real have decided to go out and buy the striker.

The club confirmed the transfer on Tuesday, with reports in Brazil suggesting the teenager has cost somewhere in the region of £35m. That’s more than they paid for Luis Figo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric. That’s more than 18 of La Liga’s other 19 clubs have ever spent on a single player.

Vinícius himself will reportedly receive two further payments of £6.76m directly into his young savers account and be eligible to move to the Santiago Bernabéu as soon as he turns 18. Which, seeing as he was born in the year 2000, will be in a year and a half’s time.

But who on earth is he?

Teenage sensation

It should come as little surprise that at youth-level at least, Vinícius has proved himself to be a bona fide teenage sensation. He joined Flamengo aged just 10 having been spotted playing football on the streets of Sao Goncalo, and quickly moved through the junior ranks, quickly winning call-up’s to Brazilian’s respective youth teams. 

He impressed playing for the Brazilian Under-15 national side, scoring six goals in as many matches and winning the South American Under-15 Football championship, but it is at Under-17 level that he has really shone.

Vinícius finished as the top-scorer at the South American Under-17 Championship earlier this year, finishing as the top scorer at the tournament, with seven goals. Predictably, it didn't take long for clips of his many moments of outrageous skill – including these three quick lobs which appeared to make one poor commentator spontaneously combust – to go viral. In total he has scored 19 goals in 22 matches at that age level.

Popular across Europe

Given his feats at the South American Championship, something of a Mecca for football scouts, Vinícius Júnior was quickly being scouted by a number of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Manchester United were reportedly one of the first clubs to enquire into his availability, although Ed Woodward didn’t have much success negotiating with Flamengo: “The talks didn't get far,” their former president Kleber Leite sniffed.

It didn’t take long for Real’s bitter rivals Barcelona to emerge on the scene either. It was rumoured in Brazil that Neymar himself had contacted Vinícius to extol the virtues of the Camp Nou, but the club proved unwilling to match the teenager’s astronomic release clause.

Completely inexperienced

Not only is Vinícius yet to play a game of senior football but, until this month, he had not even trained with the Flamengo first-team. He is yet to make the club’s match-day squad for a Campeonato Brasileiro Série A match and is waiting on his first Brazil Under-21 call-up. 

Following in a long line of young stars

Despite his complete lack of experience at senior level, Vinícius is the next in a long line of young Brazilian footballers to attract an awful amount of hype, prior to securing a move to Europe before they’ve turned 20.

His eye for goal and habit of dropping into deep positions so as to embark on mazy runs past defenders have, naturally, invited comparisons with the likes of Neymar, Robinho and Gabriel Jesus – who proved an instant hit at Manchester City earlier this season, at the age of 19.

But it would be wrong to say Vinícius is destined for success. There is a long list of young Brazilian stars that headed to Europe but failed to make the grade, from Adailton to Caio Ribeiro. Real have taken a sizeable gamble on Vinícius Júnior, paying almost £40m on a player who turns 17 next month.

(© Independent News Service)

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