Vinicius Junior Has The World At His Feet In Fifa World Cup Year

Photo Credit: AP

Vinicius Junior or Vini Jr., refer to him as you will, but the youngster is looking more and more like the world-class player that his club Real Madrid hoped that he would be. But where is Vinicius Junior from and what moulded him into the player that could be one of the stars of the 2022 World Cup?

Real Madrid spot a star in the making

Born in São Gonçalo, Brazil, Vinícius Júnior made his professional debut for Brazilian Serie A club Flamengo in 2017. There is a remarkable story about his debut as well. Very shortly after he had made his pro-debut, in which he only appeared as an 82nd-minute substitute, Flamengo had a huge reaction.

He was only a 17-year-old at the time, but Flamengo immediately upped his buyout clause by around £15 million. They also threw more money at the youngster’s salary. Did Vinícius Jr set things alight so much on his debut that prompted the big knee-jerk reaction?

Did he rattle off a hattrick in his short time on the pitch on his debut? Far from it. His introduction passed by without much incident. But there were bigger things in place behind the scenes as La Liga giants Real Madrid were already keen on getting their hands on the youngster.

The Vinicius Junior Gamble

In the summer of 2017, Real Madrid signed a contract to acquire him once he had turned 18. So perhaps Flamengo’s foresight, knowing that one of the biggest clubs in the world was after one of their players, promoted their response in giving Viní Jr more money after his short debut.

Vinícius Júnior left Flamengo having played 37 matches for them, scoring seven times.

Real Madrid couldn’t get the Brazilian until he had celebrated his 18th birthday because of international transfer rules. Just to put a number on how big of a deal this transfer was, Real Madrid reportedly shelled out a sum that was the second highest ever for a Brazilian player.

How much did Real Madrid pay for Vinícius Jr? The fee that Real Madrid paid was reportedly in the range of £45 million. That was the most money that any club in the world had ever paid for a player who had yet to turn 19 years old. This was a huge transfer gamble by Real Madrid unless, of course, their scouting system was really on point.

As things turn out, it has looked increasingly like it was a case of the latter. Since making his breakthrough at Real Madrid in the 2021/22 season, the sky appears to be limit for the Brazilian star.

Settling In Spain

A youngster travelling halfway across the world and being asked to settle into a new culture and lifestyle is not going to be an easy thing. Vinicius Junior was handed his debut with Real Madrid in 2018, just a couple of months after he had officially arrived at the club.

Injury would then end his season early and that meant that he had to work his way back up to the top. It was a fairly muted time at the club for Vinícius Jr between his injury on March 6th and the end of the 2021 season.

The amount of playing time that he really needed for development wasn’t coming. The goals from the attacking player were few and far between in the famous white shirt. But things would be about to change in a big way.

A New Season Of Titles Flows For Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid won both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League in the 2021/22 season. It was a massive effort from the club. Vinicius Junior played his part in all of that as well as he tallied 22 goals across all competitions for Los Blancos.

None of those goals was bigger than the one he netted on 28th May 2022 at the Stade de France. Real Madrid faced Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League Final and were under some pressure from the Reds.

But against the flow of the red tide, Real Madrid broke forward, with Federico Valverde throwing a low cross into the Liverpool penalty area. Vinicius Junior had gambled and positioned himself perfectly at the back post, tapping the ball into an empty net, with Liverpool keeper Allison stranded having tried to initially defend his near post.

It was the only goal of the game. A game-winning goal at the highest club level that there is. Real Madrid were being repaid for their trust in this young Brazilian.

Vinicius Junior Backing it up

Although it is actually not, the 2022/23 season feels like a sophomore campaign for Vinícius Júnior. He took more time to settle into life at the Bernabéu than either party would have liked. But the past is the past and the future instead looks very bright for the winger.

There is still the pressure of having to back up a breakthrough season. All players have to go through that. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out. But with an impressive start to the 2022/23 La Liga title defence for Real Madrid, Viní Jr looks as if he may just have things under control.

He seems to have found his place in the Real Madrid line-up. Injuries to their main striker Karim Benzema, who is heading to the twilight of his career anyway, amps up the pressure on Vinicius Junior. Questions are being answered at the club level. But interestingly his place in Brazil’s World Cup line-up is a little more confusing.

Where does Viní Jr Fit In The Brazil Starting XI?

Brazil head to the 2022 FIFA World Cup as one of the big favourites. This proud football nation has enjoyed unprecedented success in the tournament. The Selecao have won the title five times before, more than any other country.

Their last title was at South Korea/Japan in 2022. Ominously perhaps, Brazil have never gone more than four editions of the FIFA World Cup without winning the title. Given their crop of current attacking talent, Brazil are expected to be in contention in Qatar.

Competition is high in the Brazil line-up, which for head coach Tite, is a nice problem to have. Brazil have some tremendous young attacking players that they can call upon. It’s leading to a fascinating race to see who will make it into the starting line-up for them at the World Cup.

Vinicius Junior vs Raphinha vs Antony

This is where it gets interesting for Brazil as the Selecao have three brilliant wingers that are in the limelight at the moment. Along with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, there’s Barcelona’s Raphinha and Premier League side Manchester United’s summer-signing Antony.

Vinicius Junior is a naturally gifted left-winger, so that does kind of give him an advantage over the other two when it comes to the starting eleven? Given now that he does appear to be on a steep upward curve of form and ability, he is probably going to be a lock in Brazil’s starting eleven.

That leaves Raphinha and Antony fighting for a place on the opposite side of the pitch to Viní Jr.

Raphinha was bought by Barcelona in the summer of 2022 from English Premier League side Leeds. He is predominantly a left-winger putting him in direct competition with Vini Jr. Since he is only going to get half a season under his belt for his new club before the World Cup, does that put Raphinha at a disadvantage?

Probably not as Antony only moved to Old Trafford from Ajax in the summer of 2022. Antony is a right-winger by trade, so would naturally fit on the other side of the pitch from Vinicius Junior. Unless the latter is moved to the right, leaving Raphinha to occupy the left.

Brazil’s Formidable Forwards

One of the first names on Brazil’s team sheet at the World Cup is going to be Neymar. Still plying his trade at Ligue 1 giants PSG, Neymar has a stunning international record for his country. Brazil are likely to go with a front three, with Neymar in the centre, supported by wider-players. Brazil’s team selection is fascinating.

The depth and talent in Brazil’s forward ranks is just formidable. There is a stunning amount of largely young talent that is there. When you throw Tottenham’s Richarlison into the mix along with Real Madrid’s Rodrygo and Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus (and not forgetting the more seasoned campaigner Roberto Firmino), it’s some firepower that the Selecao can call upon.

Will Tite be able to pull all of that together to lead Brazil to success at the 2022 World Cup? Given that the Selecao romped through their CONMEBOL qualification campaign to reach the Finals, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them knocking on the door of their sixth World Cup crown.

Vinicius Junior – The Neymar of 2014

In the summer of 2022, Brazil’s head coach Tite told Viní Jr that he is ‘the Neymar of 2014’. That was a reference to the wider position that Neymar took up for Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. Currently, the more mature Neymar plays a central role in attack.

Tite’s also reached out to Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti to see what he has done to get Vinícius Júnior to the level that he is currently at. The praise has been flooding in for Viní Jr on the back of his breakout season. His goal tally is up. His influence is substantial and growing.

It may well have taken Vinícius Júnior, possibly Brazil’s next greatest star, a couple of years to find maturity following his move to Real Madrid. But now he appears to be bubbling to perfection just at the right time for both club and country.