With no ‘galáctico’ signings in the offing – after all, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé are both staying at Paris Saint-Germain this summer – Real Madrid are doubling down on their strategy of looking to bring through the stars of the future. That’s certainly the aim when it comes to Vinicius, who Real unveiled on Friday. It’s a case of: if Neymar isn’t an option, let’s make sure we’ve got his successor. Los Blancos are therefore preparing to take extra special care over the starlet’s development.
This is Real Madrid’s ‘Vinicius Plan’:
Try him out in ‘Cristiano Ronaldo territory’
“Julen Lopetegui has told me to head for goal, to look to penetrate [the defence],” Vinicius explained during his presentation. The club spent 45m euros on him at just 17 because they could see shades of Neymar in him. He has himself acknowledged that the PSG star is the footballer he wants to emulate and, with Cristiano Ronaldo gone, Real’s new head coach has a spot to fill on the left of the attack.
Gareth Bale could switch flanks, but it remains to be seen whether he’d be up for that. Vinicius, meanwhile, operated on the left for Flamengo and likes playing there. The International Champions Cup – which sees Real face Manchester United, Juventus and Roma – is Lopetegui’s chance to test out how well he slots in alongside Bale and Karim Benzema. While anxious not to put too much immediate pressure on the 18-year-old, Real are keen to see how he fares against elite European opposition.
Make sure his footballing adaptation is as smooth as can be
Although Real have in principle opted against sending Vinicius out on loan next season, they have offered him the option of dropping down to play matches for the reserves, Castilla, if game time with the first team proves hard to come by.
However, the club are prepared to tread with care on this issue. Languishing in the ‘B’ team was a cause of major despair for Martin Odegaard, who had been playing top-flight football in Norway but found himself stuck in Segunda B, the third tier of Spanish league football, every weekend. Vinicius’ involvement with Castilla would only be sporadic and aimed at helping his adaptation process.
Work hard on developing his physique
Physically, Vinicius is still to shake off the last remnants of adolescence. He has clearly developed since breaking through at Flamengo, but will need to beef up his physique yet further if he’s to cope with the demands of top-level football in Europe.
At Valdebebas, Real Madrid’s fitness coaches will look to build up his lower-body strength – but ensure he hangs on to the turn of pace that is one of his key features – and, with a view to dealing with the physical challenge posed by opposition defenders, raise his upper-body muscle mass. He only has 49 senior club appearances under his belt; he’s still very much in the making.
Ward off the threat of homesickness
Vinicius’ life revolves around three figures of paramount importance to him: his agent, Lucas Mineiro, his brother, Netinho, and the crucial individual in his family, his uncle Ulysses. To a greater or lesser extent, they’ll all be with him in Madrid, but there is no escaping that this is a young lad who has only just turned 18 and has said he “will miss Rio de Janeiro”.
In that sense, fellow Brazilians Marcelo and Casemiro will have a vital role to play in his adaptation. They’d already set about taking him under their wing with calls and messages during the year he spent on loan at Flamengo. His compatriot Augusto, who is the same age, will play for Castilla next term, and Brazil and Real legend Roberto Carlos is a part of the Bernabéu set-up… The plan is to ward off homesickness, something that affects many Brazilians when they make the move to European football.