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Atlético vs Real Madrid: What is the controversy surrounding Vinicius Jr’s dances in goal celebrations?

Criticism of Vinicius Junior’s goal celebrations have caused the issue of racism to rear its ugly head again in Spanish football, but the forward has hit back.

Vinicius unfazed by criticism of goal celebrations
Angel MartinezGetty

Provocative goal celebrations are hardly rare in football – a cupped hand to the ear or a finger placed on the lips being among the most common ways a player invites opposition fans to keep their opinions to themselves – but LaLiga has found itself in the eye of another storm because of Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior’s method of marking a goal: with a dance. Players pulling out little routines is also nothing new in the game, and Brazilians are famous for their elaborate celebrations. From Bebeto’s “baby swing” at the 1994 World Cup to Ronaldo and Romário and Neymar and Lucas Paquetá, it has become as much a part of Brazilian football as Jogo bonito.

The issue is not Vinicius’ dances, it is the reaction to them in some quarters of the Spanish game. LaLiga has a chequered history when it comes to tackling racism in stadiums, where monkey chants were until recently fairly commonplace, and the views aired by football agent Pedro Bravo on Spanish television show El Chiringuito have been widely condemned. Bravo, who is also president of the Spanish Association of Football Agents and negotiated the deal that took Sergio Ramos from Sevilla to Real Madrid in 2005, suggested that Vinicius should “stop acting the monkey.”

Abuse in Spanish stadiums

The Spanish phrase Bravo used was deja de hacer el mono, which can also be translated as stop playing the clown or acting the fool, and he immediately apologised for the “out of context” use of the words, but there has been understandable and considerable backlash over his comment, which comes at the same time as a group of Espanyol fans are being tried in court for hate crimes and discrimination after hurling racist abuse at Athletic forward Iñaki Williams in January 2020. And that is far from an isolated incident.

Vinicius was on the end of abuse during a Clásico in October 2021 and in Son Moix, home of Real Mallorca, in March 2022. Nico Williams, brother of Iñaki who has just been called up for Spain, received racist insults at Betis’ Villamarín stadium that same month and San José Earthquakes defender Carlos Akapo was abused at Granada’s Los Cármenes stadium while playing for Cádiz last February.

Bravo issued a clarification on social media, saying he used the “monkey” expression to say Vinicius was “doing stupid things.”

“I want to clarify that the expression ‘playing the monkey’ that I have misused to qualify Vinicius’ goal celebration dance was done metaphorically,” he said. “Since my intention was not to offend anyone, I sincerely apologize. I am sorry!

World football comes out in support of Vinicius

Vinicius has also received criticism from other quarters for an apparent lack of respect towards opponents but Bravo’s comments on a popular television show that attracts an audience of varied age ranges was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Real Madrid have threatened legal action. Players from across the world, including at Atlético Madrid, have offered their support and told Vinicius to “keep dancing.” It was a topic at almost every press conference ahead of this weekend’s Liga games and Brazilian public figures including Pelé and Lula da Silva have weighed in.

“Football is joy. It’s a dance. It’s a real party. Although racism still exists, we will not allow that to stop us from continuing to smile,” Pelé wrote on Twitter.

Vinicius: “The dancing is not mine alone”

Vinicius, meanwhile, has said he has no intention of curtailing his celebrations. “My dances celebrate the cultural diversity of the world. Accept it, respect it, I’m not going to stop,” he wrote on Instagram. “Weeks ago, some people started to criticize my dancing. But the dancing is not mine alone. They belong to Ronaldinho, Neymar, Paquetá, Griezmann, João Félix, Matheus Cunha... Brazilian funk singers and samba dancers, Latin reggaeton singers, Black Americans. They are dances to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world. They say that happiness bothers. The happiness of a black Brazilian being successful in Europe bothers much more. But my will to win, my smile and the sparkle in my eyes are much bigger than that.”