Forget Neymar or Kylian Mbappé; Vinícius Junior is the new kid on the transfer block.
Vinícius Junior’s current club Flamengo are reported to have agreed on a €45million deal with Spanish giants Real Madrid for the latest product of their outstanding youth academy. Despite interest from Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea, the Brazilian youngster has opted to join Los Blancos once he reaches his 18th Birthday on July 12th, 2018.
Vinícius caught the eye of the footballing world with his incredible performances for Brazil in the South American U-17 Football Championship. The tournament is notorious for fast-flowing, attacking football and has unearthed talents such as Coutinho, Casemiro and more recently, Sebastian Driussi. So, what makes Vinícius stand out from the ever-growing list of wonderkids being produced by South American clubs?
Christened “Novo Neymar” – which means “New Neymar” in Portuguese – by local fans, Vinícius possesses the same attributes and even the same position as his fellow countryman, but with a more physical and combative play style. At 5’8, his low centre of gravity allows him to change direction in the blink of an eye; pair that with his blistering pace and you have an extremely explosive player capable of shredding open a defensive line with a well-timed run. His movement off the ball is exceptional, as is his movement with it.
Vinícius’ ability to change direction compliments his dribbling, allowing him to remain unpredictable and spontaneous in his attacks. Though his skills and fakes are fun to watch, what impresses me most is his technique with the ball at his feet. Vinícius keeps the ball close to his body, and he keeps his body close to the ball. In American Football, coaches teach players as young as six or seven to keep their hips as low as they can when they run. Not only does it make it easier to change direction and explode out of the turn, it makes them harder to tackle and maintains their balance. The same principle applies to football; the lower your centre of gravity and the closer you are to the ball, the harder you are to tackle. Although Vinícius is abnormally well-developed for his age and therefore unlikely to be brought down easily, this innate ability to protect himself and the football will only help him as he evolves into a world class winger.
Another key element to Vinícius’ game is his ability to deal with pressure. Due to his exceptional ability, often teams are looking to surround him and suffocate his movement/passing options. His awareness and ability to process information allow him to pick his next move immediately without hesitation, often dribbling his way out of trouble or looking for a teammate in an advanced position. Though his final ball is excellent, his decision making can be poor at times. Often, he opts for the thirty-yard screamer or highlight-reel showboating when really, a simple pass would have served himself and the team much better; though at the tender age of sixteen, we must encourage players to express their creativity with the ball at their feet.
Not only is Vinícius an attacking threat; he’s a team player. He holds himself accountable for his mistakes, an attribute which seems so simple yet has become so valuable in the modern game. He has no shame losing the ball, and he certainly has no shame attempting to win it back. With his physicality, he proves to be a challenge for even the toughest defenders as he chips away at their heels as he chases them down. Yes, his decision making could do with some work, but three assists in the U-17 South American Football Championships speaks volumes for his commitment to his team. The young Brazilian is constantly on the move looking to create space for his teammates, hassle opponents and support his team in defending their goal.
€45million is, quite frankly, ridiculous for a sixteen-year-old. Yes, he has all the intangibles, but that may be the problem. At his age, Vinícius dominates because he is bigger, faster and stronger than the majority of the opponents he comes up against. You have to ask the question; if he fails to develop further, will he be as dominant in three years’ time?
That said, he did have a sensational U-17 Championships in which he claimed top goalscorer with 7 goals, showcasing his incredible range of capabilities. From his natural awareness on the field to his proficiency in front of goal and ability to switch positions seamlessly mid-game; Vinícius’ performances have caught the eyes of football’s elite, which brings him one step closer to the top of the footballing world.