On a night when Mallorca’s 15-year-old Luka Romero became the youngest player to take the field in the history of Spain’s La Liga, it is easy to overlook the fact that the player who tipped the balance in the game is also a teenager.

Vinicius Junior does not turn 20 for another two-and-a-half weeks, but the young Brazilian has already made the transition from promising prospect to exciting reality, from wild gamble to sure thing. Since the return of La Liga, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema have been in wonderful form in Real Madrid’s run of four consecutive victories, but Vinicius has also played his part to put Real bang in contention for the title.

– In the first game back, against Eibar, he was on the bench. Rodrygo, his even younger compatriot, beat him to a place in the starting lineup. And with Eden Hazard also ready for action, some thought that Vinicius would struggle to get some game time. But he was impressive off the bench against Valencia, and magnificent from the off against both Real Sociedad and Mallorca. His pace was a constant worry for the Sociedad defence, and he won the penalty from which Real took the lead. He then broke the deadlock against Mallorca, leading local sports paper Marca to comment that “the Brazilian, who was once again Madrid’s best player, keeps showing that he took advantage of the confinement to do more than abdominals and post photos on social media. Vinicius finished like an angel when he was one-on-one with the opposing keeper.”

It was the cool precision of his shot — a dainty little chip, subtle and precise — that caught the eye. Finishing has often been seen as his weak point. Indeed, some have argued that he has more weak points than strong.

Vinicius became the second-most expensive player to leave Brazil when Real paid an astonishing €45 million for him in 2017. The most expensive is Neymar, and there are significant differences between the two. Neymar was already 21 when he made his move from Brazil to Spain. He was an established star, the most important player in the national team and, with his club Santos, had won the Copa Libertadores. Vinicius was a 16-year-old who had not even made his senior debut for Flamengo. He could not make the move across the Atlantic until his 18th birthday, so Flamengo fans had more than a year to enjoy him — and judge his performances.    Continue reading

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