The Premier League elite should be queuing up to snatch ViniciusMay 10th, 2023
Just after the final whistle at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Kyle Walker wandered over to Vinícius Júnior and broke into a laugh before the pair embraced. It was pure respect from the Manchester City full-back after going toe-to-toe, sprint-for-sprint, with the Brazilian and only conceding to a moment of pure beauty.
The Real Madrid forward pointed to the sky, presumably reminding Walker that he tried to beat him with a Rainbow Flick, that audacious piece of skill flicking the ball from the floor to over the opponent’s head. It is usually only seen in warm-ups or possibly Hollywood movies. Vinícius is an A-list leading actor standing in the way of City and the Champions League final.
In the years to come when his goal is shown, it will be forgotten that it was totally against the run of play. City had enjoyed possession, more than 70 per cent of it, but in a couple of seconds their hard work was undone and they were behind in the tie. “The first chance they had, they scored an incredible goal,” said City midfielder Rodri.
What a goal it was. Eduardo Camavinga carried the ball forward after a touch from Luka Modric had beaten the City press. From under pressure, to bearing down on Ederson‘s goal. When the ball was offloaded to Vinicius, the first touch set him for a strike on goal. Ruben Dias‘ attempted block meant there was one part of the goal to aim at, which Vini found while in a full sprint.
There are no recorded measurements on the hardest side-footed shots in football but Vinícius’ would be up there with the most powerful. “Special player, special goal,” was the verdict of Champions League winner Rio Ferdinand. “He stays inside, rather than going wide, as that is where he is most dangerous. Pure magic. Power. Precision. He’s the type of player that can hit it as hard as he wants and gets pure contact on it.”
Carlo Ancelotti was more focused on his team’s performance than that of his star forward. “He is a great striker in a fantastic moment. But the team did well,” said the Real Madrid manager, which seemed an understatement, perhaps with next week at the Etihad Stadium in mind.
Ancelotti has one of the most potent players in the competition leading his attack. For half an hour it was only City, with Real on the ropes until they found Vinícius. It was not a knockout blow but a warning as to what could happen next week.
It is no surprise that Real inserted a buyout clause of €700 million in his contract, given how highly regarded he is at the Bernabeu and how others around Europe view him. While there has been no official announcement over a contract extension, there have been some reports in Spain over it being agreed.
Until it is announced, he only has one full season left on his current terms which begs the question as to why Premier League clubs are not trying to exert pressure to bring him to England. At Real, they are used to having a long run-up to signings and making it clear who they are targeting. But as it stands, even when Chelsea were spending in January and breaking the British record for an incoming transfer, there was no talk of Vinícius.
There has been a fair bit of traffic between Madrid and the Premier League in recent seasons. Not all of them have been cast-offs either. Casemiro and Raphael Varane have shown there is plenty left in the tank for their Manchester United careers, Martin Odegaard has used Arsenal as a platform to show his talent, while even Alvaro Morata was a Real first-teamer. But the true Galacticos, those called on to be match-winners in the biggest of matches, they stay at the club unless asked to leave.
Vinícius, after scoring his wonder goal against City, wheeled away to the touchline and was slapping the Real badge in celebration. A show of loyalty to his club in a city that has been home for five years, since he joined for a little under £40million from Flamengo. He has become the player that Brazilians thought Neymar would be, lighting up the biggest tournament in Europe with his pace and ruthlessness in front of goal.
It has not all been happy in Madrid. Atletico fans hung an effigy of Vinícius in January, which was condemned by La Liga and both Madrid rivals. He was called a monkey by fans earlier in the season and there have been calls for legal action over the racism he has faced. Yet there has not been murmur of England being a better home for him yet. There would be no shortage of takers if that changed.
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