Real Madrid lured in by Vinicius' brilliance but they still need to give him time
The Brazilian has been brilliant for Real Madrid since earning his place under Santiago Solari but there too much expectation put on his shoulders.
Real Madrid were lured in by Vinicius' potential and they came to rely on it. The hope that came with his intoxicating opening spell in white came crashing down with defeat to Barcelona when the 18-year-old did what 18-year-olds do. He lacked composure in front of goal when it was needed most, and while that will come with time, putting their hopes at the feet of a kid fresh off the plane in a new continent is something Real Madrid said they wouldn't do.
On Wednesday night at the Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid ‘fell with honour’ against a blunt Barcelona, who happened to finish the few chances they did muster up over the course of the game. One prominent newspaper in Madrid said Real Madrid’s performance in the first half was like 'a dinner without wine. Very sad.’ On the contrary, there was plenty of wine. Problem was the diners weren’t old enough to drink it. Real Madrid didn’t do what they said they would with Vinicius: while their message publicly, as least, was that they would protect him and expectations needed to be realistic, that’s exactly the opposite of what happened during their busiest period of the season.
They caught Vinicius fever and figured the Brazilian was their only route out of a poor season dogged by a lack of consistency, creativity and leadership.
You can't say this was planned for Vinicius in his first season at Real Madrid. It would be equally unfair to say it wasn't supposed to be like this because the truth is, there was no clear plan for the teenager’s arrival but Real Madrid knew they had signed a special player when he arrived from Flamengo for €45 million last summer. They were sure he wasn't leaving the club in his first season where he could be watched closely and guided towards greatness. He started in the Segunda B and stood out immediately but despite then manager Julen Lopetegui watching him in the Cerro del Espino as he scored twice against Atlético Madrid in a stunning display of speed and decisiveness, he wouldn't give him his chance.
Lopetegui’s lasting legacy at Madrid might just have been saying Vinicius was ‘undercooked’. He was ridiculed for the statement after Vinicius broke onto the scene under Santiago Solari, tearing up and down the left wing with opposing right-backs backtracking with little more than a prayer of stopping him. 'He’d be cremated at this stage if it were up to Lopetegui,' they chided. Maybe the sacked manager had a point but the difficulty is in containing Vinicius and that's where Real Madrid fell down.
He was meant to dazzle gradually; an oxymoron given the very nature of the Brazilian’s style.
Vinicius loaded with more responsibility than expected
Real Madrid were in bad shape post-Ronaldo. After a summer in which they explained that Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and others were ready to share the load left by the Portuguese, they were struggling to replicate even a smidgeon of his output. “It’s an exciting challenge reinventing the team without Ronaldo,” said Lopetegui in one of his earlier, perkier press conferences before the angst set it. Lopetegui also said nobody would bear the brunt of the load in Ronaldo’s absence and the club echoed this statement. But they took the stones of responsibility meant for Asensio and Bale’s backpack and they put them in Vinicius’.
This all has to be prefaced with the acknowledgement that Vinicius will one day win the Ballon d’Or or at least come very close. He is a very special talent but Real Madrid promised they’d protect him, were caught thinking in the short term and got stung against Barcelona on Wednesday in the one competition they felt they had more than optimal chance of winning. A player with a little bit more nous in front of goal might have given Real Madrid an unassailable lead in that opening 45.
“I’m working hard,” he said after the game against Levante, which Real Madrid scraped through with three points. “But I’m only 18 years old.” He was asked about his finishing and his need to score more with reports suggesting he is doing everything in his power to improve every aspect of his game. His adaptation has been good and with Marcelo, Casemiro and the rest, ’the best in the world’ as he says, there to look after him, his first season in Spain has been excellent by any standards let alone a teenager's.
The comments made after the game by Santiago Solari might sting though. "Football has this, above all. You must take your chances. Of course you must do many things, play well, create chances, but above all you must be efficient in the important moments,” he said.
Vinicius attempted six shots, which was more than all Barcelona players combined, without hitting the back of the net.
He's their future, for sure, but he's their present and everything in between those two things with several reports suggesting Gareth Bale has one foot outside the Santiago Bernabéu. People sometimes equate Bale’s injury history with his form on the field and think just because he hasn’t played much that his input has been zero. He has 13 goals and five assists this season and doesn’t need protecting. He’s willing to shoulder the load and desperately wants to take more responsibility based on what we saw against Levante after he rolled home a penalty for the decisive goal. But we have been sold a Bale vs Vinicius storyline with the Welshman cast in the antagonist's role.
After 12 consecutive games that saw the Brazilian named to the starting eleven, Vinicius was eventually rested against Girona. They lost, which only reinforced the narrative that Vinicius is the be all and end all of Real Madrid's current hopes. Many conveniently forgot that it was the defending where they fell down in that game and many other pre and post-Vinicius.
There was clear confusion between cause and effect. Vinicius played and they regressed to the mean after some poor results. They believed that only Vinicius could cause opposing defenses problems when Bale, when fit, has been scoring at an incredible rate and as Asensio proved against Ajax, he is keen for more minutes too.
On Saturday in the Clásico Part 2, Vinicius might improve or remain inconsistent in front of goal but they still need Bale regardless. He'll score plenty of goals over the next decade in white and he'll win trophies too. And after those wins, he can feast like a king with all the wine he can handle.