“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?” The stirring, unforgettable words of Vinícius Júnior: winger for Real Madrid, general of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
Not quite – and it’s not like the gifted Brazilian really needs to ask. Although he does actually share a name with a Roman general: one Marcus Vinicius, battle hardened in Germania back in the day. It’s a name that can also be found on any good list of ‘gladiator baby names’ (yes, such things do exist). This particular gladiator does battle on the pitch rather than the colosseum, of course; the young livewire dribbles with more glee than a newborn, as well as displaying adhesive control, dizzying acceleration and highlight-reel panache.
His team-mates appreciate his situation and are keen to do their bit to help. “Vini is a very young player,” said Karim Benzema. “I believe in him because he has what it takes to succeed. This is why I talk a lot with him on the pitch; sometimes it’s a little loud, but that is because he can give more. Because when he wants to be, he is a phenomenon.”
Benzema isn’t the only senior star supporting Vinícius, as he’s previously explained. “We can see that they are worried about us younger players, because we are the present and future of Real Madrid. All of my colleagues are very focused, but their work ethic pushes me harder and harder.”
Vinícius has already clocked up 118 appearances for Madrid. In March he became the fourth youngest player in the club’s history to reach a century, behind only Raúl González, José Antonio Camacho and Iker Casillas – Madrid icons all. And he would have got there sooner had it not been for a knee injury in 2019, just as he was establishing himself as a starter under coach Santiago Solari, the man who quickly warmed to his quality performances in the reserves.
Vinícius can also point to four goals in his 21 Champions League outings so far. In comparison, Ronaldo failed to register in his first 26 games in the competition, eventually breaking his duck aged 22. The Portugal star also had to work hard to establish himself at Manchester United in his early years, making him a perfect example to follow – and Vinícius knows it. He showed as much by imitating Ronaldo’s trademark goal celebration after scoring against Barcelona in 2020, but also by hiring a personal chef and personal fitness trainer last year, as well as installing a gym at his house. He follows the ‘Cristiano method’, a rigorous routine that transformed Ronaldo from a wispy winger into a force of nature, still going strong at 36.
“I work hard at home and at the club, but I think the work I do at home is so worth it,” says Vinícius, of whom the Instagram pics are rife to prove he has bulked up. “I spend so many hours thinking, watching videos, doing physio. Or work to prevent injuries, because no player wants to get injured and miss games. And that doesn’t happen by chance – rather, through hard work and dedication, which I put in to be at my best level possible.”