It’s often said that the best players are two steps ahead of the rest.
While your average footballer is plotting what to have for breakfast on the day of a game, an elite one is already visualising how the length of the grass will affect their 89th minute assist.
But, for some players, the ability of foresight is overrated. Some players go where the wind blows the second they put their boots on. If you don’t know what you’re about to do with the ball, how can the defender? Case in point: Vinicius Junior.
It’s easy to forget that the former Flamengo forward only made his Real Madrid debut five months ago.
In that time, Brazil’s second most expensive footballing export has become the first player born this millennium to represent Madrid, stepped seamlessly into Gareth Bale’s injury-hit boots and garnered enough respect to be booed in the Nou Camp.
Vinicius has scored four goals and provided one assist for Madrid this season, having started 11 games. Solid stats for an 18-year-old dealing with unattainable expectations in both Spain and Brazil.
But to understand the hype around Vincius you need to look beyond the stats. You need to look beyond his tendency to butcher 3-on-1s, as he did during the first half of Madrid’s 1-1 Copa del Rey draw with Barcelona.
Watching Vinicius play is to be transported away from the robotic brilliance of top level professional football in which every first-touch is perfect and every pass premeditated with the thought process of Garry Kasparov.
You’re never sure about what the next passage of play will bring. Neither is he. It’s as if he rolls the dice every time he finds himself in possession.
Vinicius lit up the Nou Camp in the first half, although not always for the right reasons. For every counter-attack ruined, there was a feint, dart or stepover to catch the eye.
Nelson Semedo found himself in the book after falling for a fleet-footed shuffle which also left Ivan Rakitic chasing his tail.
It was noticeable that Madrid’s attacking malice lowered significantly when the 18-year-old departed for Gareth Bale in the 64th minute, although that might also have had something to with the arrival of a certain Lionel Messi 60 seconds earlier.
Gerard Pique- a man who’s gone to battle with the best forwards the world has to offer during his 15-year career- left the pitch saying: “Vinicius will become a great player.”
Santiago Solari was equally enthusiastic, saying: “That a kid of 18 years old plays in this way does not often happen.”
Clearly the end product is missing. But, as Solari said, Vinicius is still a teenager. Training with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos every day is to football IQ what MIT is to science and engineering.
If Modric can’t instil a bit of composure in Vinicius’ game then there’s no hope for the Brazilian. All in good time. For now, football fans should just enjoy the ride, nutmegs and all.
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