Jaws dropped when Real Madrid agreed a staggering €45million deal to sign a relatively unknown 16-year-old from Brazilian side Flamengo in May last year. What’s more, he only had one senior appearance under his belt at the time, having made his debut ten days prior.
Vinicius Junior was a standout at youth level for Brazil, with 19 goals in 22 games for the Seleção‘s various under-age sides, but Madrid’s willingness to fork out such an exuberant fee seemed to speak to the dizzying direction in which the transfer market was heading.
However, less than a year on, it’s already starting to look like the Spanish giants have astutely secured themselves a bargain in the form of the skinny teenage attacker, who has surpassed the scoring feats that earned Neymar global acclaim at the same age.
Due to FIFA regulations, Vinicius has to wait until he turns 18 this summer before his long-anticipated Bernabéu deal can be rubber-stamped. The youngster, meanwhile, has so impressed in his native land that some reports claim Los Blancos are considering forgoing their initial plan to loan him back to Flamengo next season, instead making him a part of Zinedine Zidane’s first-team squad.
When quizzed about his future in Madrid after a trip to watch the European champions in action against Barcelona in December, Vinicius, displaying an encouraging maturity for one so young, reiterated his intention to continue his development in Brazil for the time being.
“Nothing has been decided yet and I’ve only been on holiday for three days so my plan is to start thinking about the future in the new year,” he said. “I plan to stay here through to the end of 2018 and after I win the Libertadores, then it’ll be time to move to another club.”
Since his promotion to the Flamengo first team last year, Vinicius has eight goals to his name. While Neymar, during his early days at Santos, reached the same figure in fewer appearances – 39 to the Madrid-bound teenager’s 45 – Vinicius has required fewer minutes to record his tally, averaging a goal every 186.3 minutes to the Paris Saint-Germain superstar’s record of one every 258 minutes.
Vinicius has also hit the eight-goal mark faster than Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus, with the man set to lead the line for Brazil at this summer’s World Cup in Russia plundering his first eight strikes at a rate of one every 205 minutes for Palmeiras.
It’s not just Vinicius’ goals that are impressing; the young forward is beginning to develop the desired consistency in the Brazilian top flight and has displayed impressive adaptability by featuring centrally and on both flanks.
Stylistically, the Neymar comparisons are inevitable and not without base: Vinicius, like his £198m compatriot, is fast, creative and a mesmerising dribbler, employing street-honed trickery to evade challenges, favouring a role on the left flank from which he can cut inside on to his stronger right foot.
He does, however, still have plenty of developing to do; his decision-making, as is to be expected of a player of his age, requires refinement and his tactical discipline will take time to mature.
One particular feather in Vinicius’ cap, though, is the fact that, through his role in Flamengo’s run to the to the final of the Copa Sudamericana last season, he already has continental tournament experience, something that will serve him well when he joins the 12-time champions of Europe.
And while his short cameo in the final, a two-legged defeat to Independiente of Argentina, flattered to deceive, he did play a key role in helping his side overcome a two-goal deficit against rivals Fluminense at the quarter-final stage.
While €45million for a talent untested at the top level seemed ridiculous just a year ago, the way Vinicius has impressed recently, combined with the rapid inflation of the transfer market, now makes Real Madrid look extremely wise for securing the gifted 17-year-old.
What’s more, with Los Blancos rumoured to be plotting a future move for Neymar, Vinicius, if he continues to develop at his current rate, might save Madrid a lot of money; why splash £200million or more on the PSG star when they’ve already got the ‘next Neyamar’ on their books?