Is Vinicius Junior Real Madrid's long-term successor to Cristiano Ronaldo?
Background Photo By: Camilo Rueda Lopez, CC By 2.0
A new star is born in Madrid. Vinicius Junior arrived at Real Madrid last year with a glowing reputation. This season, he’s put it into effect. The young Brazilian thrives under Santiago Solari, fitting into the Cristiano Ronaldo role effortlessly to spearhead Madrid’s stunning New Year's revival.
He first proved his ability to Solari when both were with Real Madrid Castilla B. The teenager scored four goals in five appearances. While the Argentine manager kept true to his roots, offering several players their senior debuts, the 18-year-old winger made the biggest impact.
He made inroads in the Copa del Rey, assisting seven goals and scoring two in seven appearances. With injuries mounting, Solari began playing him on the left flank in La Liga. The Brazilian's energy and productivity are helping Madrilenos get over Ronaldo's departure. It’s now the Vinicius show at the Santiago Bernabeu.
While Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric prefers a backseat to the spotlight, the new kid revels in it. His confidence supreme, he will take on any and all defenders and has kept a healthy Gareth Bale on the bench.
Real Madrid’s improved form begins with Vinicius. He started the last seven games of which Los Blancos won five. He played a crucial role in their Madrid Derby victory on Saturday, earning a penalty after causing Santiago Arias all kinds of problems with his trickery.
In addition, he's affecting teammates positively. Karim Benzema and Lucas Vasquez both found new attacking vigour thanks to the Brazilian’s exuberance. Sergio Reguilon’s created a special partnership with him, evoking flashbacks of Ronaldo’s chemistry with Marcelo.
Solari deserves credit. The Argentine gambled heavily on unproven youth and it's paid off. He knows what it takes to succeed at Real Madrid and has effectively communicated with his charges. He's given Vinicius freedom to express himself in attack but made certain he works doubly hard to regain possession. The youngster enjoys a 51% dribbling success while averaging more than 3 take-ons completed per game while not leaving Reguilon at the mercy of opposing wingers. In the big-matches against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Vinicius showcased his discipline by pressing from behind to help recover possession.
Even so, it remains his work on the ball that sets the young Brazilian apart. His skillset borrows from two Selecao legends. He possesses Ronaldinho's close control and Ronaldo de Lima's power. He can dance around or run right directly at defenders. Add sheer pace and a ruthless attitude to the package and opponents have little time to react or recover. Mentally, he can wear them down. It's easy to pip a young player for greatness because everyone forgets when you're wrong but it should come as no surprise to anyone if Vinicius Junior wins the Ballon d'Or at some point in the next few years.
Of course, he still has much to learn. Every young player does. The Brazilian has the advantage of being at the right club under the right manager to ride the fast track to success.