Vinicius Junior can only rely on his reputation for so much longer

Tom Gott
Feb 25, 2021, 1:00 PM GMT
Vinicius is enduring a rough patch
Vinicius is enduring a rough patch | Soccrates Images/Getty Images
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Football fans adore building young players up as future superstars before their careers have a chance to get going, but even the most optimistic of supporter raised an eyebrow at Real Madrid's decision to throw £40m for a 16-year-old Vinicius Junior back in 2017.

The teenager became the second-most expensive Brazilian export of all time, behind only Neymar's 2013 move to Barcelona, despite only having played one senior game for Flamengo. His reputation was just that high.

This was a kid who was 100% destined to win the Ballon d'Or. He was dubbed the 'New Neymar'.

Nobody would be able to hold a candle to Vinicius. Everyone was certain of that because he had played eight minutes of a match against Atletico Mineiro ten days before Madrid splashed the cash.

Real splashed out on Vinicius having barely watched him
Real splashed out on Vinicius having barely watched him | MAURO PIMENTEL/Getty Images

Here we are, 99 games into Vinicius' Real Madrid career, and he could not look less like a £40m player if he tried.

Now 20, Vinicius is without a goal in his last 25 games in all competitions - an ode to his shirt number of last season - and he attracted even more criticism from his own fans with another underwhelming performance in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Atalanta.

For the majority of this season, manager Zinedine Zidane has continued to persist with Vinicius, ignoring the fact that he is woefully out of form. After all, this is the wonder boy, the future superstar, the £40m child.

That reputation can only get him so far, and Vinicius is learning that harsh reality now.

Zidane & Vinicius don't see eye to eye
Zidane & Vinicius don't see eye to eye | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

There are rumours that Los Blancos are ready to cut ties with Vinicius, having concluded that they might have goofed when splurging prematurely all those years ago. Their determination to create a diamond out of a lump of coal is fading.

It's hard to pin the blame on one specific person for his struggles.

Real's decision to put every spotlight in the world on him at a time when he was probably still growing that weird moustache every 16-year-old grows was obviously never going to help things. He simply wasn't ready, but that's only the start of all this.

The determination of Zidane (or perhaps the board) to keep playing Vinicius and almost force him to be good has only exposed him to even more criticism. Struggling youngsters need to be taken out of the limelight, but Vinicius has been opened up to abuse time and time and time again.

Vinicius even found himself embroiled in beef with strike partner Karim Benzema, who appeared to be caught on camera pleading with his teammates not to pass to the Brazilian.

Has all the criticism been unwarranted? No, not at all. If you play for Real Madrid, you're supposed to hit a certain standard, and Vinicius hasn't been doing that. His finishing has long been an issue and he has just 12 goals in nearly 100 outings.

But more importantly, he hasn't always acted like he wants to.

There was a report from AS suggesting Zidane was left furious when he caught Vinicius on his phone instead of warming up for a Champions League tie with Manchester City, and that incident is thought to have sent the pair's relationship on an irreparable nosedive. For a player who has been struggling, he didn't seem to care.

If Vinicius doesn't turn things around, his career at the highest level will be over soon. There's no doubt about that. Los Blancos want the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland to revolutionise their attack (largely because Vinicius hasn't done that himself) and if they can cash in on Vinicius before his value plummets too far, they won't hesitate.

Real want to rejuvenate their attack
Real want to rejuvenate their attack | David Ramos/Getty Images

Vinicius will almost certainly get the chance to turn things around.

Rodrygo and Karim Benzema are both injured and Eden Hazard has no legs these days, so Zidane has little choice but to play him.

That opportunity by necessity will either lead to the end of Vinicius' career before it ever really got going, or the start of a new chapter. Which of those routes he takes is up to him.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

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