Boy wonder

Last season Vini Jr announced himself as an inarguably integral part of the Real Madrid winning machine; the Brazilian striker also happened to score a pretty crucial goal in the Champions League final. He tells us how that felt – and sounds a warning to the rest of Europe for 2022/23

WORDS Graham Hunter | INTERVIEW Caroline De Moraes

Interview
With hindsight, it had to be Vini Jr. OK, the argumentative might respond that it could have been the result of a majestic moment from Karim Benzema. Perhaps even another of those second-half substitute ‘jack-in-the-box-with-a-goal’ signatures from Rodrygo. And if you really want to contend that Luka Modrić or Toni Kroos might have billowed Alisson Becker’s net from distance, fine.

But once Carlo Ancelotti had decided that his team would play ‘rope-a-dope’ with Liverpool – that Spain’s champions would try to draw out Jürgen Klopp’s magnificent, insistent, hungry side and then try to spear them on the counter – it had to be this 22-year-old Brazilian who tied the ribbon on his magna cum laude season with the Champions League final-winning goal. 

Go on, admit it. 

This was the season when everyone – opponents, fans, media, team-mates, coaches – looked at Vini Jr and understood, unequivocally, that he had graduated to the elite. Team-mates relied on him, Ancelotti ladled responsibility on him, fans venerated him, opponents feared him. 

Then Fede Valverde spotted him. There he was, far left-hand side of the Stade de France pitch, sprinting like an Olympian while knowing, deep down, that this was about to be his moment. The Uruguayan’s scintillating pass scythed through to the back post and Vini Jr – calmly, decisively – bulged the net. 

The winning moment in a Champions League final, aged just 21. That’s the territory of the few. 

Weeks later, chatting to Champions Journal, he’s still blessed with a state of reverie when speaking about it. “It was a unique feeling. I guess that only those who have scored in, or won, these games can talk properly about the sensations. To describe it you don’t have to write much, you don’t have to speak much. 

“Only someone who’s lived it, who’s experienced football the way we at Real Madrid experienced it last season, can really know how huge it is and how happy it makes you feel. It was such an important moment – for me, for the whole team. After such a great season, we had to end it with a victory in the final! 

“It became a moment to relax, too. A unique feeling. I reckon I’ve got about 15 years of my career left, and you never know when my next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max.”

On the face of it, the hero of our story scored, won the final and joined the long line of greats at his club because he’s fast and well trained – and Valverde’s crossfield pass was devastating. Look a little beyond the face-value stuff, however, and some of that ‘inevitability’ insistently begins to suggest itself again. 

He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning.
Vini Jr hits the winning goal

Only Thibaut Courtois, man of the match in Paris, played more competition minutes for the winners than Vinícius. No-one else except those two men started every Champions League match for Los Blancos en route to victory. Across those 13 Champions League matches, Vini Jr played 300 minutes more than either Casemiro or Toni Kroos (the equivalent of more than three full games). When Madrid stumbled, briefly, against Sheriff in the group stage it was the young Brazilian who, explosively, put them back on track away to Shakhtar with two goals and an assist.  

But look at the rollercoaster knockout rounds. Look at the nights when Los Blancos toyed with our emotions and our nerves, consistently serving up cliffhanger drama en route to the final. This kid, in a tight trio with Benzema and Rodrygo, decided that nothing and no one was going to prevent Real Madrid having a tilt at their 14th European Cup lift. 

While Ancelotti’s team flirted with elimination against Paris, Chelsea and Manchester City, Vini Jr produced three assists and a goal across six gigantically pressurised matches. Cometh the hour (or the 91st minute), cometh a quite brilliant Brazilian. 

He’s got a clear definition of what was going on while the jaws of those involved with European football repeatedly went slack with awe and disbelief between February and May last season. And he can describe it. “Winning the final was magical, the moment that we had been hoping for since the round of 16. Every single game was, in itself, like a final. That’s because we were wearing the most important shirt in the world, playing in the most important competition in the world and playing at the one place in the world – the Santiago Bernabeú stadium – where we can be at home with our fans.

The fact that we produced so many comebacks, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt

“The fact that we showed so much spirit and produced so many comebacks… well, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt. You must always turn up in important games. We have a squad of players who know how to approach games in this competition. I believe our success owed a bit to everything; some of our games were emotional rollercoasters, yes – but we won in the end.”

Apart from the ecstasy of the final there’s one crucial moment amid that torrent of never-say-die remontadas, as those improbable fightbacks are known in Spain, which sparks a trademark toothy grin from this prodigious talent. “It’s the game against Manchester City here at the Bernabeú. Across just two minutes after Rodrygo came on he produced a couple of vital goals that took us to the final. So aside from Paris, the most important moment of the competition, I believe, was beating City in Madrid.” 

This is a hard-headed, ambitious, dedicated pro that we are talking to. Someone who is dead set on emulating team-mates such as Benzema, Modrić, Kroos and Casemiro, who have multiple Champions League medals. Which doesn’t mean that Brazilian sentiment, or the power of friendship, have been discarded. Far from it. That sensational rescue act against City was produced by someone who Vini Jr holds dear. “Rodrygo and I have been very good friends since just after leaving Brazil. The fact is that we’ve known each other since I was 13 years old, because we were perpetually playing against each other for our teams back home.

“But while we were opponents, we always had this strong wish that, eventually, we’d be team-mates – partly because we both prefer to play with the best. Now that we are together at Madrid I have a great bond with him, with all his family and his friends. People always say that we spend more time together than with our own families! When we prepare for games, we’re together. When we train, we’re together. And when we go on holiday we’re always together too. But friendships like these are very influential on the pitch.”

Friends since their early teens and now both increasingly important in their first-team presence. Plus, potential World Cup winners later this year for the Pentacampeão: Brazil. But for a while that cascade of opinions that surrounds top-level football, reaching blizzard proportions when it comes to 14-times European champions Real Madrid, had each of them pigeonholed. And, frankly, wrongly.  

Vini Jr was portrayed as the flamboyant but less bankable maverick; Rodrygo was the guy with that metronomic ability to score off the bench. The super sub. Neither description does anything like justice to these two superb talents. And one central factor in both young Brazilians already being champions of a continent so far from their own is Ancelotti, and the trust he put in them. It’s an example to other big teams: unleash the talent, no matter the age. 

“The manager has a job to do in terms of preparation off the pitch but, from the moment he got here, the calmness and confidence he inspired in us stood out. Now I go out onto the pitch feeling confident that I’ll play well but also confident that, when it isn’t immediately my day, he’ll trust me and leave me on until the end of the game. Any player, at any club, would like to feel more of this. It’s essential. And in fact our coach made me feel more important, even before we met, because he called me ahead of his arrival at the club and mapped out everything he believed we could achieve. This helped me a lot.”

But that’s not to say that every wonderkid is put together like Vini Jr: the mentality matches the technical and athletic talent. This summer he’s once again shown the mature, single-minded winner’s discipline and preparation that won him such trust and admiration from his venerable Italian coach a year ago. 

In the summer of 2021 he returned
later than most of the Madrid men due to his involvement in the Copa America, but he worked ruthlessly hard to catch up. This summer the situation was different but his ideology was absolutely identical. Not every top footballer, regardless of their age, is guaranteed to be quite so driven. 

You never know when the next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max

“I relaxed for 20 days, then spent the last ten days preparing to go back to pre-season already in the best shape possible. Pre-season is so important, it’s when you have to work the most: you do two training sessions a day that, with this club, are intense. Then, when you go home, you need to train again. One needs to be careful not to get injured, but also to do lots of preparation work to reduce the risk of injury throughout the entire season. I look at it like, ‘If I don’t get injured I’ll play more, which means more chances to win matches and have a great season’.

“With the family I’ve got, and given that I’m at Real Madrid, it’s not hard to be driven by that feeling of, ‘We have to go again, win again.’ I look up to the players who have achieved so much at the biggest club in the world. Despite how hard it is, they’ve won five Champions Leagues. So, naturally, I want to win as much as them, to lift five or maybe six Champions League trophies.”

He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning. Everyone had already won four Champions Leagues but Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Luka Modrić, who are older and more experienced, don’t get tired of winning. Just look how they did everything this season in order for us to win.

“I’d like to be as influential as some of the greatest players to have worn the Real Madrid shirt. This doesn’t just apply to me but all our young players: Eduardo Camavinga was already used to winning, also Rodrygo, Éder Militão, Fede Valverde. We are the players of the new generation and we’ll have to try to achieve most of what the previous group did, to meet raised expectations. Because our club and our supporters always want to win – we always want to be the best.”

So there you have it, everyone else in Europe – don’t say you haven’t been warned.   

Fashion
Fashion forward

Scroll down Vini Jr’s Instagram feed for a few seconds and you’ll soon pick up on the fact that he’s a man who gives some thought to his wardrobe options. And should his sartorial efforts inspire you then he’ll know the feeling, because he in turn has been keeping a close eye on other people’s passion for fashion.

“The sportsmen who like fashion, I ended up following them. Football players also follow celebrities to have access to a wider world and all the things we love and enjoy doing, rather than just staying in a football bubble. I like NBA and I always see how the players turn up to play-off games. I am also a fan of Lewis Hamilton.”

This open-minded approach to picking up on new ideas extends to the Brazilian’s definition of what constitutes good fashion sense: “Well that depends on the person, since everyone has their own style. But feeling good is the most important thing in my opinion.” And when he can, he also tries to get more up close and personal with fellow fashionistas. “We receive many invites to fashion weeks and what have you, but we have little time for other things in football. But whenever I find some time, I always try to be there.”

Vini Jr finds it hard to select his go-to wardrobe essential (“I don’t have a favourite item, but I think I like trainers the most”) but he has no hesitation picking out the team-mates who share his enthusiasm for creative clothes. “David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga; they are always well dressed. Camavinga went on the catwalk during the last Balenciaga fashion show.” Catwalk or penalty box, these Real boys don’t miss.

But once Carlo Ancelotti had decided that his team would play ‘rope-a-dope’ with Liverpool – that Spain’s champions would try to draw out Jürgen Klopp’s magnificent, insistent, hungry side and then try to spear them on the counter – it had to be this 22-year-old Brazilian who tied the ribbon on his magna cum laude season with the Champions League final-winning goal. 

Go on, admit it. 

This was the season when everyone – opponents, fans, media, team-mates, coaches – looked at Vini Jr and understood, unequivocally, that he had graduated to the elite. Team-mates relied on him, Ancelotti ladled responsibility on him, fans venerated him, opponents feared him. 

Then Fede Valverde spotted him. There he was, far left-hand side of the Stade de France pitch, sprinting like an Olympian while knowing, deep down, that this was about to be his moment. The Uruguayan’s scintillating pass scythed through to the back post and Vini Jr – calmly, decisively – bulged the net. 

The winning moment in a Champions League final, aged just 21. That’s the territory of the few. 

Weeks later, chatting to Champions Journal, he’s still blessed with a state of reverie when speaking about it. “It was a unique feeling. I guess that only those who have scored in, or won, these games can talk properly about the sensations. To describe it you don’t have to write much, you don’t have to speak much. 

“Only someone who’s lived it, who’s experienced football the way we at Real Madrid experienced it last season, can really know how huge it is and how happy it makes you feel. It was such an important moment – for me, for the whole team. After such a great season, we had to end it with a victory in the final! 

“It became a moment to relax, too. A unique feeling. I reckon I’ve got about 15 years of my career left, and you never know when my next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max.”

On the face of it, the hero of our story scored, won the final and joined the long line of greats at his club because he’s fast and well trained – and Valverde’s crossfield pass was devastating. Look a little beyond the face-value stuff, however, and some of that ‘inevitability’ insistently begins to suggest itself again. 

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He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning.
Vini Jr hits the winning goal

Only Thibaut Courtois, man of the match in Paris, played more competition minutes for the winners than Vinícius. No-one else except those two men started every Champions League match for Los Blancos en route to victory. Across those 13 Champions League matches, Vini Jr played 300 minutes more than either Casemiro or Toni Kroos (the equivalent of more than three full games). When Madrid stumbled, briefly, against Sheriff in the group stage it was the young Brazilian who, explosively, put them back on track away to Shakhtar with two goals and an assist.  

But look at the rollercoaster knockout rounds. Look at the nights when Los Blancos toyed with our emotions and our nerves, consistently serving up cliffhanger drama en route to the final. This kid, in a tight trio with Benzema and Rodrygo, decided that nothing and no one was going to prevent Real Madrid having a tilt at their 14th European Cup lift. 

While Ancelotti’s team flirted with elimination against Paris, Chelsea and Manchester City, Vini Jr produced three assists and a goal across six gigantically pressurised matches. Cometh the hour (or the 91st minute), cometh a quite brilliant Brazilian. 

He’s got a clear definition of what was going on while the jaws of those involved with European football repeatedly went slack with awe and disbelief between February and May last season. And he can describe it. “Winning the final was magical, the moment that we had been hoping for since the round of 16. Every single game was, in itself, like a final. That’s because we were wearing the most important shirt in the world, playing in the most important competition in the world and playing at the one place in the world – the Santiago Bernabeú stadium – where we can be at home with our fans.

The fact that we produced so many comebacks, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt

“The fact that we showed so much spirit and produced so many comebacks… well, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt. You must always turn up in important games. We have a squad of players who know how to approach games in this competition. I believe our success owed a bit to everything; some of our games were emotional rollercoasters, yes – but we won in the end.”

Apart from the ecstasy of the final there’s one crucial moment amid that torrent of never-say-die remontadas, as those improbable fightbacks are known in Spain, which sparks a trademark toothy grin from this prodigious talent. “It’s the game against Manchester City here at the Bernabeú. Across just two minutes after Rodrygo came on he produced a couple of vital goals that took us to the final. So aside from Paris, the most important moment of the competition, I believe, was beating City in Madrid.” 

This is a hard-headed, ambitious, dedicated pro that we are talking to. Someone who is dead set on emulating team-mates such as Benzema, Modrić, Kroos and Casemiro, who have multiple Champions League medals. Which doesn’t mean that Brazilian sentiment, or the power of friendship, have been discarded. Far from it. That sensational rescue act against City was produced by someone who Vini Jr holds dear. “Rodrygo and I have been very good friends since just after leaving Brazil. The fact is that we’ve known each other since I was 13 years old, because we were perpetually playing against each other for our teams back home.

“But while we were opponents, we always had this strong wish that, eventually, we’d be team-mates – partly because we both prefer to play with the best. Now that we are together at Madrid I have a great bond with him, with all his family and his friends. People always say that we spend more time together than with our own families! When we prepare for games, we’re together. When we train, we’re together. And when we go on holiday we’re always together too. But friendships like these are very influential on the pitch.”

Friends since their early teens and now both increasingly important in their first-team presence. Plus, potential World Cup winners later this year for the Pentacampeão: Brazil. But for a while that cascade of opinions that surrounds top-level football, reaching blizzard proportions when it comes to 14-times European champions Real Madrid, had each of them pigeonholed. And, frankly, wrongly.  

Vini Jr was portrayed as the flamboyant but less bankable maverick; Rodrygo was the guy with that metronomic ability to score off the bench. The super sub. Neither description does anything like justice to these two superb talents. And one central factor in both young Brazilians already being champions of a continent so far from their own is Ancelotti, and the trust he put in them. It’s an example to other big teams: unleash the talent, no matter the age. 

“The manager has a job to do in terms of preparation off the pitch but, from the moment he got here, the calmness and confidence he inspired in us stood out. Now I go out onto the pitch feeling confident that I’ll play well but also confident that, when it isn’t immediately my day, he’ll trust me and leave me on until the end of the game. Any player, at any club, would like to feel more of this. It’s essential. And in fact our coach made me feel more important, even before we met, because he called me ahead of his arrival at the club and mapped out everything he believed we could achieve. This helped me a lot.”

But that’s not to say that every wonderkid is put together like Vini Jr: the mentality matches the technical and athletic talent. This summer he’s once again shown the mature, single-minded winner’s discipline and preparation that won him such trust and admiration from his venerable Italian coach a year ago. 

In the summer of 2021 he returned
later than most of the Madrid men due to his involvement in the Copa America, but he worked ruthlessly hard to catch up. This summer the situation was different but his ideology was absolutely identical. Not every top footballer, regardless of their age, is guaranteed to be quite so driven. 

You never know when the next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max

“I relaxed for 20 days, then spent the last ten days preparing to go back to pre-season already in the best shape possible. Pre-season is so important, it’s when you have to work the most: you do two training sessions a day that, with this club, are intense. Then, when you go home, you need to train again. One needs to be careful not to get injured, but also to do lots of preparation work to reduce the risk of injury throughout the entire season. I look at it like, ‘If I don’t get injured I’ll play more, which means more chances to win matches and have a great season’.

“With the family I’ve got, and given that I’m at Real Madrid, it’s not hard to be driven by that feeling of, ‘We have to go again, win again.’ I look up to the players who have achieved so much at the biggest club in the world. Despite how hard it is, they’ve won five Champions Leagues. So, naturally, I want to win as much as them, to lift five or maybe six Champions League trophies.”

He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning. Everyone had already won four Champions Leagues but Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Luka Modrić, who are older and more experienced, don’t get tired of winning. Just look how they did everything this season in order for us to win.

“I’d like to be as influential as some of the greatest players to have worn the Real Madrid shirt. This doesn’t just apply to me but all our young players: Eduardo Camavinga was already used to winning, also Rodrygo, Éder Militão, Fede Valverde. We are the players of the new generation and we’ll have to try to achieve most of what the previous group did, to meet raised expectations. Because our club and our supporters always want to win – we always want to be the best.”

So there you have it, everyone else in Europe – don’t say you haven’t been warned.   

Fashion
Fashion forward

Scroll down Vini Jr’s Instagram feed for a few seconds and you’ll soon pick up on the fact that he’s a man who gives some thought to his wardrobe options. And should his sartorial efforts inspire you then he’ll know the feeling, because he in turn has been keeping a close eye on other people’s passion for fashion.

“The sportsmen who like fashion, I ended up following them. Football players also follow celebrities to have access to a wider world and all the things we love and enjoy doing, rather than just staying in a football bubble. I like NBA and I always see how the players turn up to play-off games. I am also a fan of Lewis Hamilton.”

This open-minded approach to picking up on new ideas extends to the Brazilian’s definition of what constitutes good fashion sense: “Well that depends on the person, since everyone has their own style. But feeling good is the most important thing in my opinion.” And when he can, he also tries to get more up close and personal with fellow fashionistas. “We receive many invites to fashion weeks and what have you, but we have little time for other things in football. But whenever I find some time, I always try to be there.”

Vini Jr finds it hard to select his go-to wardrobe essential (“I don’t have a favourite item, but I think I like trainers the most”) but he has no hesitation picking out the team-mates who share his enthusiasm for creative clothes. “David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga; they are always well dressed. Camavinga went on the catwalk during the last Balenciaga fashion show.” Catwalk or penalty box, these Real boys don’t miss.

But once Carlo Ancelotti had decided that his team would play ‘rope-a-dope’ with Liverpool – that Spain’s champions would try to draw out Jürgen Klopp’s magnificent, insistent, hungry side and then try to spear them on the counter – it had to be this 22-year-old Brazilian who tied the ribbon on his magna cum laude season with the Champions League final-winning goal. 

Go on, admit it. 

This was the season when everyone – opponents, fans, media, team-mates, coaches – looked at Vini Jr and understood, unequivocally, that he had graduated to the elite. Team-mates relied on him, Ancelotti ladled responsibility on him, fans venerated him, opponents feared him. 

Then Fede Valverde spotted him. There he was, far left-hand side of the Stade de France pitch, sprinting like an Olympian while knowing, deep down, that this was about to be his moment. The Uruguayan’s scintillating pass scythed through to the back post and Vini Jr – calmly, decisively – bulged the net. 

The winning moment in a Champions League final, aged just 21. That’s the territory of the few. 

Weeks later, chatting to Champions Journal, he’s still blessed with a state of reverie when speaking about it. “It was a unique feeling. I guess that only those who have scored in, or won, these games can talk properly about the sensations. To describe it you don’t have to write much, you don’t have to speak much. 

“Only someone who’s lived it, who’s experienced football the way we at Real Madrid experienced it last season, can really know how huge it is and how happy it makes you feel. It was such an important moment – for me, for the whole team. After such a great season, we had to end it with a victory in the final! 

“It became a moment to relax, too. A unique feeling. I reckon I’ve got about 15 years of my career left, and you never know when my next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max.”

On the face of it, the hero of our story scored, won the final and joined the long line of greats at his club because he’s fast and well trained – and Valverde’s crossfield pass was devastating. Look a little beyond the face-value stuff, however, and some of that ‘inevitability’ insistently begins to suggest itself again. 

He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning.
Vini Jr hits the winning goal

Only Thibaut Courtois, man of the match in Paris, played more competition minutes for the winners than Vinícius. No-one else except those two men started every Champions League match for Los Blancos en route to victory. Across those 13 Champions League matches, Vini Jr played 300 minutes more than either Casemiro or Toni Kroos (the equivalent of more than three full games). When Madrid stumbled, briefly, against Sheriff in the group stage it was the young Brazilian who, explosively, put them back on track away to Shakhtar with two goals and an assist.  

But look at the rollercoaster knockout rounds. Look at the nights when Los Blancos toyed with our emotions and our nerves, consistently serving up cliffhanger drama en route to the final. This kid, in a tight trio with Benzema and Rodrygo, decided that nothing and no one was going to prevent Real Madrid having a tilt at their 14th European Cup lift. 

While Ancelotti’s team flirted with elimination against Paris, Chelsea and Manchester City, Vini Jr produced three assists and a goal across six gigantically pressurised matches. Cometh the hour (or the 91st minute), cometh a quite brilliant Brazilian. 

He’s got a clear definition of what was going on while the jaws of those involved with European football repeatedly went slack with awe and disbelief between February and May last season. And he can describe it. “Winning the final was magical, the moment that we had been hoping for since the round of 16. Every single game was, in itself, like a final. That’s because we were wearing the most important shirt in the world, playing in the most important competition in the world and playing at the one place in the world – the Santiago Bernabeú stadium – where we can be at home with our fans.

The fact that we produced so many comebacks, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt

“The fact that we showed so much spirit and produced so many comebacks… well, that’s just in the DNA of this club and our shirt. You must always turn up in important games. We have a squad of players who know how to approach games in this competition. I believe our success owed a bit to everything; some of our games were emotional rollercoasters, yes – but we won in the end.”

Apart from the ecstasy of the final there’s one crucial moment amid that torrent of never-say-die remontadas, as those improbable fightbacks are known in Spain, which sparks a trademark toothy grin from this prodigious talent. “It’s the game against Manchester City here at the Bernabeú. Across just two minutes after Rodrygo came on he produced a couple of vital goals that took us to the final. So aside from Paris, the most important moment of the competition, I believe, was beating City in Madrid.” 

This is a hard-headed, ambitious, dedicated pro that we are talking to. Someone who is dead set on emulating team-mates such as Benzema, Modrić, Kroos and Casemiro, who have multiple Champions League medals. Which doesn’t mean that Brazilian sentiment, or the power of friendship, have been discarded. Far from it. That sensational rescue act against City was produced by someone who Vini Jr holds dear. “Rodrygo and I have been very good friends since just after leaving Brazil. The fact is that we’ve known each other since I was 13 years old, because we were perpetually playing against each other for our teams back home.

“But while we were opponents, we always had this strong wish that, eventually, we’d be team-mates – partly because we both prefer to play with the best. Now that we are together at Madrid I have a great bond with him, with all his family and his friends. People always say that we spend more time together than with our own families! When we prepare for games, we’re together. When we train, we’re together. And when we go on holiday we’re always together too. But friendships like these are very influential on the pitch.”

Friends since their early teens and now both increasingly important in their first-team presence. Plus, potential World Cup winners later this year for the Pentacampeão: Brazil. But for a while that cascade of opinions that surrounds top-level football, reaching blizzard proportions when it comes to 14-times European champions Real Madrid, had each of them pigeonholed. And, frankly, wrongly.  

Vini Jr was portrayed as the flamboyant but less bankable maverick; Rodrygo was the guy with that metronomic ability to score off the bench. The super sub. Neither description does anything like justice to these two superb talents. And one central factor in both young Brazilians already being champions of a continent so far from their own is Ancelotti, and the trust he put in them. It’s an example to other big teams: unleash the talent, no matter the age. 

“The manager has a job to do in terms of preparation off the pitch but, from the moment he got here, the calmness and confidence he inspired in us stood out. Now I go out onto the pitch feeling confident that I’ll play well but also confident that, when it isn’t immediately my day, he’ll trust me and leave me on until the end of the game. Any player, at any club, would like to feel more of this. It’s essential. And in fact our coach made me feel more important, even before we met, because he called me ahead of his arrival at the club and mapped out everything he believed we could achieve. This helped me a lot.”

But that’s not to say that every wonderkid is put together like Vini Jr: the mentality matches the technical and athletic talent. This summer he’s once again shown the mature, single-minded winner’s discipline and preparation that won him such trust and admiration from his venerable Italian coach a year ago. 

In the summer of 2021 he returned
later than most of the Madrid men due to his involvement in the Copa America, but he worked ruthlessly hard to catch up. This summer the situation was different but his ideology was absolutely identical. Not every top footballer, regardless of their age, is guaranteed to be quite so driven. 

You never know when the next final will be, so I had to enjoy it to the max

“I relaxed for 20 days, then spent the last ten days preparing to go back to pre-season already in the best shape possible. Pre-season is so important, it’s when you have to work the most: you do two training sessions a day that, with this club, are intense. Then, when you go home, you need to train again. One needs to be careful not to get injured, but also to do lots of preparation work to reduce the risk of injury throughout the entire season. I look at it like, ‘If I don’t get injured I’ll play more, which means more chances to win matches and have a great season’.

“With the family I’ve got, and given that I’m at Real Madrid, it’s not hard to be driven by that feeling of, ‘We have to go again, win again.’ I look up to the players who have achieved so much at the biggest club in the world. Despite how hard it is, they’ve won five Champions Leagues. So, naturally, I want to win as much as them, to lift five or maybe six Champions League trophies.”

He’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can to be able to hit that target. “It’s not enough that it was an amazing season – here at Madrid we have experienced players who are always teaching us. One of the lessons that they continuously emphasise to the younger players is that at this club, we don’t want to stop winning. Everyone had already won four Champions Leagues but Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Luka Modrić, who are older and more experienced, don’t get tired of winning. Just look how they did everything this season in order for us to win.

“I’d like to be as influential as some of the greatest players to have worn the Real Madrid shirt. This doesn’t just apply to me but all our young players: Eduardo Camavinga was already used to winning, also Rodrygo, Éder Militão, Fede Valverde. We are the players of the new generation and we’ll have to try to achieve most of what the previous group did, to meet raised expectations. Because our club and our supporters always want to win – we always want to be the best.”

So there you have it, everyone else in Europe – don’t say you haven’t been warned.   

Fashion
Fashion forward

Scroll down Vini Jr’s Instagram feed for a few seconds and you’ll soon pick up on the fact that he’s a man who gives some thought to his wardrobe options. And should his sartorial efforts inspire you then he’ll know the feeling, because he in turn has been keeping a close eye on other people’s passion for fashion.

“The sportsmen who like fashion, I ended up following them. Football players also follow celebrities to have access to a wider world and all the things we love and enjoy doing, rather than just staying in a football bubble. I like NBA and I always see how the players turn up to play-off games. I am also a fan of Lewis Hamilton.”

This open-minded approach to picking up on new ideas extends to the Brazilian’s definition of what constitutes good fashion sense: “Well that depends on the person, since everyone has their own style. But feeling good is the most important thing in my opinion.” And when he can, he also tries to get more up close and personal with fellow fashionistas. “We receive many invites to fashion weeks and what have you, but we have little time for other things in football. But whenever I find some time, I always try to be there.”

Vini Jr finds it hard to select his go-to wardrobe essential (“I don’t have a favourite item, but I think I like trainers the most”) but he has no hesitation picking out the team-mates who share his enthusiasm for creative clothes. “David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga; they are always well dressed. Camavinga went on the catwalk during the last Balenciaga fashion show.” Catwalk or penalty box, these Real boys don’t miss.

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