“If a car has five speeds, he has six or seven.” The phrase of Tite, coach of the Brazilian team, was used to describe Vinicius’s speed on the pitch, but it also sums up the speed with which the forward excelled. In four years he made his debut at Flamengo, moved to Real Madrid, was champion in the Spanish League and is now the youngest among the 24 Brazilian athletes competing in the Copa América 2021. Characteristics of a young man who skips stages with the goal to be the star of the next generation of Canarinha, but that he has not yet had the opportunity to show his potential in the current edition of the tournament.
At 20 years old – he turns 21 on July 12 – the striker is old enough to play football at the Olympics, where only athletes up to 24 years old are allowed. It could be, therefore, with the Olympic team, which recently called up footballers for the Tokyo games. However, Vinicius went straight to the senior squad climbing up to play the biggest tournament among South American countries. “Since he was a child, he has always been a protagonist in his team, always playing with the older boys,” explains Márcio Torres, assistant coach of the Flamengo U-20 team. “He is a player at the level of Neymar in terms of daring, calling for responsibility and not feeling pressure, which is a brand of great players. I think Vinicius has everything to be the next idol of Brazilian football ”, says the former coach of the forward.
Torres worked with Vinicius in three different categories at Flamengo: under 16, under 17 and under 20. Under his tutelage off the pitch, and in command of Friends on the field of play, the so-called “generation 2000” went two years without losing a match in the youth championships. “In the three years, he solved our problems more than he created them,” says the former coach, praising the forward’s professionalism. “I’ve never seen him arrive without a smile on his face. He didn’t make an ugly face in any training either, ”he says.
Vinicius’ precocity led him to debut with Flamengo in May 2017 at the age of 16. He set records: He is the youngest Brazilian to score two goals in the Copa Libertadores and also to complete 50 games with the team, all before starring in the most expensive transfer in football history involving a player under 19 years of age. For 45 million euros, he left Rio de Janeiro to play for Real Madrid in 2018. He was champion of Spain in the second season and, in February 2019, he had his first call-up to the Brazilian team, at age 18, to replace the Neymar injured in two friendlies. “He is a complete player, he has extraordinary physical virtues. The acceleration, the one that impresses against one ”, highlighted Tite.
In three seasons at Real Madrid, Vinicius has scored 15 goals in 118 games. Those are low numbers by a forward’s standards, but justified for a player who has already admitted that it is easier for him to dribble than to score. “He plays in a sector of the field that is not close to the goal and has power, speed, strength and endurance as qualities. That’s why dribbling is easier ”, explains Torres. The coach sees natural criticism of Vinicius’ lack of goals, which tends to overshadow his dribbling and believes that training is the only solution. Torres points out that the greatest evolution that the Brazilian has had since leaving the country has to do with the defensive part of the game, not with the attack. “His role is to play from the center of the field, but football today is so dynamic that if he cannot make the defensive conversion, he will have a hard time. I think this is where he evolved the most: positioning and scoring when his team doesn’t have the ball ”, he analyzes.
Two months before the Copa América, Vinicius had the most important performance of his career, which led him once and for all to be on the final list of Tite. Playing alongside stars like Benzema, Casemiro and Modric, the Brazilian was the highlight of Real Madrid’s victory over Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals, when he scored twice in a 3-1 victory. That day, the forward’s shots were good enough to beat rival goalkeeper and teammate Alisson and show that Vinicius can shine at the highest level in football even in his 20s. “Great games like this are the ones that mark the player’s career. He opened the eyes of the whole world in this performance, but the challenge is to continue being decisive ”, comments Márcio Torres. “For us, whose main mission is to develop players, it gives us great pride.”
European good nights, however, are still not enough to guarantee Vinicius minutes in the Brazilian team. In the 10 times he was summoned by Tite, he only participated in two games, adding 21 minutes on the field. Five of these minutes took place in the Copa América, in the Brazilian debut. In the most difficult moment yet, when the Brazilians lost to Colombia in the third match, Tite opted to put reserves Roberto Firmino, Everton and Gabigol in the places of Gabriel Jesus, Éverton Ribeiro and Richarlison in the second half, making it clear that Friends is at the end of the line of the main attack of the selection. Neymar is another of the former Flamengo player’s competitors who has guaranteed ownership.
Despite the praise, his former coach agrees with the order established by the Brazilian team strategist and preaches caution. Torres sees that Vinicius can benefit more from the World Cup experience with “day to day” and taking risks during the second half of matches. For now, expectations are even for the future: he will be 26 years old at the 2026 World Cup, an age that is considered by many to be the peak of the footballer. Vinicius asks for minutes. It may be all you need to get in and wow the veterans, as you have already done.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.