The first player born in the 21st century to play in LaLiga for Real Madrid, Brazilian starlet Vinicius Junior has arrived impressively to the top level in recent months, with the still just 18-year-old dealing admirably with all the pressure and attention which comes with coming so far so fast.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in July 2000, Vinicius Jose Paixao de Oliveira Junior joined his city’s Club de Regatas do Flamengo as a 10-year-old and was soon being well known locally for his dazzling skills and ball control.
The youngster then first came on the radar of many international observers when finishing as top scorer as Brazil won the 2015 South American U-15 championship in December 2015, and then completing the same double as his national team won the continental Under-17 championship in March 2017.
A senior club debut with Flamengo in Brazil’s Serie A soon arrived, and within a few months a deal was agreed to take him to Madrid as soon as FIFA rules for the transfer of young players allowed.
That move was completed when he turned 18 in July 2018, and he joined up with the Bernabeu outfit for pre-season training last summer along with Galacticos like Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos.
“This is the best opportunity a football player can have,” Vinicius said at July’s presentation event at the Bernabeu.
“I will sacrifice a lot to show I deserve this opportunity. But sacrifice is not something new for me, I come from a very simple family, and I am very proud of all they did for me, and the values they have taught me. Now I am at the peak of world football, at Real Madrid.”
A first game in a Los Blancos shirt followed in a pre-season International Champions Cup game against Manchester United in Miami, when he immediately filled the left-sided attacking role previously held by Madrid’s all-time record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo.
Vinicius then began the regular season training daily with Madrid’s seniors but playing with their Castilla youth side. He settled in impressively quickly to football in Spain’s third tier, with four goals and one assist in his first five games. A perfectly flighted free kick at Celta Vigo B especially stood out, as Castilla coach Santi Solari was repaid for the confidence shown. Then Madrid first team coach Julen Lopetegui saw enough to give Vinicius his senior LaLiga debut as substitute in September’s huge ‘derbi’ against neighbours Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu.
A first start for Madrid’s first team came in Solari’s first game after replacing Lopetegui as Blancos first team boss in October, a 4-0 Copa del Rey last 32 first leg victory at third-tier Melilla. The display included the expected skills and pace, but also impressive maturity and game intelligence. He played vital roles in two Madrid goals, and almost got on the scoresheet himself with 16 yard drive which rattled the crossbar.
The following weekend Vinicius was in action again back at the Bernabeu, entering from the bench with a LaLiga game against Valladolid locked at 0-0. Within minutes he had shown impressive confidence and positivity with a run and shot which was deflected to the net to break the deadlock. Another assist soon followed during a dazzling substitute cameo in a 5-0 Champions League victory against Viktoria Plzen.
Such displays have led to Vinicius’ nomination for the 2018 Golden Boy Award, a prestigious prize previously won by his club mate Isco in 2012, and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in 2005. This is unlikely to be the last individual recognition for one of LaLiga’s most impressive rising stars.