In his first year as a professional footballer in Spain the Brazilian has made 25 appearances, scoring four goals and providing 12 assists.
Vinicius Junior was signed by Real Madrid in 2017 as a potential future star, one of a raft of South American prospects widely expected to become the next big thing in Europe. What nobody foresaw was how quickly the 18-year-old would settle into that category, or how effortlessly he would shoulder the weight of responsibility that accompanies a 45-million-euro price tag.
In his first season in Spain, Vinicius has already become the flag-bearer for a post-Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid, excelling despite the team’s difficulties in adapting to the loss of the Portugal superstar. The Brazilian has made 25 appearances for the first team already, scored four goals and provided 12 assists in all competitions after making his debut on September 29, in a two-minute cameo against Atlético.
Of those 25 appearances, 16 have been starts and it is widely expected that the precocious talent will be unleashed in at least one of the two Clásicos this week, putting Vinicius up against Leo Messi again.
His first taste of the biggest game in Spanish football came on February 6, when he put in a headline-grabbing performance in the 1-1 draw in Camp Nou. Such was his impact that Ernesto Valverde is pondering tailoring his line-up in the return leg on Wednesday to counter the pace of the Brazilian.
Vinicius following in Messi's first steps
And it is against Messi that Vinicius’ impact on Madrid this season is best compared. In his debut year in Spain, the Argentinean played only nine times for Frank Rijkaard’s Barça, starting just once in the Copa del Rey against Gramanet. In the league, Messi managed just 75 minutes and scored one goal – a glorious chip against Albacete as a sign of things to come - as he eased his way into the first-team reckoning.
Although he was called up to the squad for the Clásico on November 20, 2004, Messi did not get off the bench and had to wait until the following season to make his debut against Real Madrid on November 19, 2005, at the age of 18. Barça went on to win 3-0, Messi providing the assist for Samuel Eto’o to open the scoring in a game that would be remembered for the standing ovation the Bernabéu afforded Ronaldinho after a spectacular performance from the Brazilian.
Like Rijkaard, Santiago Solari has been keen to promote youth since he took over at Real Madrid. Where the Dutchman placed his faith in the raw talents of Messi and Andrés Iniesta, Solari had no hesitation in promoting Vincius to starting status, at the expense of the players of the calibre of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio.
The 18-year-old has responded to every challenge thrown his way by Solari, carrying the team at times, and this week will be given the opportunity to take another step towards fulfilling his potential in the double-header against Barça, just as Messi did before him when the five-times Ballon d’Or winner was still a diamond in the rough.