Home World Vinícius Júnior remains one of the enduring enigmas of a mercurial Brazil | Jonathan Liew

Vinícius Júnior remains one of the enduring enigmas of a mercurial Brazil | Jonathan Liew

by Alexander
0 comment
 Vinícius Júnior remains one of the enduring enigmas of a mercurial Brazil | Jonathan Liew

TThe rainbow flick arrived about half an hour into the game, and in fairness to Vinícius Júnior, it’s not like he had a plethora of superior options. Pinned on the left wing, two Uruguayan defenders present, no Brazilian teammate coming to help him. And so, with a flash of improvisation, a flick of the left heel and an acceleration, he was off and clear: an outrageous skill that would have – nitpicking here – been even It would have been better to have managed to take the ball with him.

In a way, this little vignette, taken from a 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Uruguay in October, sums up Vinícius’ international career so far: big plans and big ideas thwarted. It’s been five years since he made his debut, and in that time, a global under-15 and under-17 star has become one of the sport’s great strikers. But in the case of yellow Brazil, at least, the great leap forward has not yet been realized.

He still only has three international goals in 26 caps and has only completed 90 minutes in competitive matches twice. Over the last three seasons at Real Madrid, he has averaged a goal or assist every 101 minutes in all competitions. For Brazil, it’s every 205 minutes. And as Vinícius prepares to go out at Wembley on Saturday night, the inability to replicate his superb club form at international level remains one of the enduring conundrums of this mercurial Brazil side.

For his part, Vinícius noted the incongruity. “I have been very bad in the last few games, I have a lot to improve,” he admitted after the defeat against Uruguay. “My cycle with the national team has not yet been what I expected. I have a lot to develop to be able to play as best as I can, like I do at Real Madrid. And yet, for all his admirable reproaches, Vinícius was also partly a victim of circumstances. In a way, his story is a parable of the modern Brazil team, a team that, for most of this century, has struggled to be greater than the sum of its parts.

There are of course mitigating factors. Hamstring and thigh injuries have hampered him this season, so much so that Vinícius missed half of Brazil’s dire World Cup qualifying campaign in the fall. The ridiculous coaching carousel – Tite being replaced by Ramon Menezes, Fernando Diniz being replaced by Dorival Júnior in the space of 13 months while the national federation desperately pursued Carlo Ancelotti – generated a kind of internal perplexity, in which no one really no longer knows the best team or the optimal system in Brazil.

Take the six games Vinícius played for Brazil last year. Menezes’ measured 4-3-3 gave way to Diniz’s hectic 4-2-4, with Vinícius himself moved from left wing to center forward amid a group of attacking players rotation. Rodrygo, Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison, Antony, Malcom, Rony, Vitor Roque, Pedro, Raphinha, Gabriel Martinelli: these are the men with whom Vinicius shared Brazil’s frontline in just 12 months.

Of course, there is another player on this list, perhaps the most important of all. Neymar is often accused in Brazil of stifling Vinícius’ development: a bit unfair, given that Vinícius missed without Neymar as often as he missed with him. But this is still a Neymar-style team, even if the man himself enjoys his lucrative Saudi sinecure: a sanctuary for individual talent, often brilliant players. left to their own devices in the absence of meaningful relationships and field training patterns.

At Madrid, Ancelotti designed a system to get the best out of Vinícius: keeping him high up the pitch, reducing his play to his sharpest points. With Brazil, he is often forced to wander and wander in search of the ball, forced to make things happen himself, deprived of service in his areas of choice. The most damning statistic: This season, Vinícius averages 3.44 shots per 90 minutes for Real Madrid, and just 0.95 for Brazil.

While Neymar’s career is in sharp decline, Vinícius has gradually usurped his status as the biggest star in Brazilian football. The racism he suffered while playing for Madrid generated a strong wave of sympathy and recognition in his home country. And yet, until the World Cup in Qatar, he wasn’t even a guaranteed starter: the day before Brazil’s opening match against Serbia, Tite’s coaching staff was wondering whether he should place in the eleven.

ignore previous newsletter promotion

Of course, Vinícius is now first choice, and the arrival of Dorival – a less dogmatic and more flexible coach than his predecessor Diniz – offers something of a fresh start. Neymar’s age is almost over – he is recovering from ACL surgery and will be 34 by the 2026 World Cup – and so there is broad consensus on the need to rebuild Brazil around the youth of Vinícius, Endrick and Rodrygo.

However, with just three months until the Copa América, time is running out. It seems ridiculous to suggest that a player who scored the winning goal in a Champions League final at the age of 21 has yet to prove himself on the big stage. For Brazil, however, there is some truth in this. And if being the best player on the world’s most famous international team raises certain expectations, then at least he has plenty of time to live up to them. “The emotion is as if it were the first time,” Vinícius said upon his arrival in London for his summons. For all intents and purposes, it might as well be.

You may also like