Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was supposed to pave the way for Gareth Bale to emerge as the main man.
However, it is an 18-year-old Brazilian who is the talk of the Bernabeu.
Real announced in May 2017 they had agreed a deal to sign a 16-year-old Vinicius Junior from Flamengo in a deal worth £38.7m – despite him having played only 17 minutes of senior football.
He arrived in the Spanish capital in July 2018 – days after Ronaldo left for Juventus for £99.2m – and has since proved one of the positives in a season that has seen boss Julen Lopetegui sacked and Real trail bitter rivals Barcelona by eight points in La Liga.
Two Ronaldos in one?
Vinicius played 12 minutes under Lopetegui but has started Real’s last five league games under new manager Santiago Solari.
Four of those have ended in victory and on Wednesday he started the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Barcelona – which ended 1-1 – ahead of Wales international Bale.
“Vinicius has brought to the side an electricity, a sharpness and bravery they did not have,” said Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
“In my eyes he has got a bit of both Ronaldos.
“When he starts running with the ball – the power, the strength, the pace, the control he has with the ball at his feet – is similar to that of the Brazilian Ronaldo.
“It doesn’t mean he is going to be as good as either of the two Ronaldos and from here he has to have the right mentality, to work hard, be lucky with injuries, and have the confidence of the coaches.
“But right now he’s got everyone in his pocket. Real Madrid’s fans absolutely adore him.”
‘It was supposed to be Gareth Bale’s year’
Vinicius has scored four goals – two in La Liga and two in the Copa del Rey – since making his Real debut on 29 September.
He has quickly developed an understanding with Karim Benzema, Real’s French striker who has scored 10 times in La Liga this season.
“The chemistry and understanding he has with Benzema is better than what Bale has with the Frenchman,” Italian football expert Mina Rzouki said.
“Those two together have revived Real Madrid. When Ronaldo left, it was supposed to be Bale’s year.
“It is Benzema who has stepped up and has helped Vinicius.”
‘Similarities to Mbappe and Martial’
Kylian Mbappe made his debut for Monaco at 16 while Anthony Martial had just turned 17 when he played for Lyon in the Europa League.
French football expert Julien Laurens sees similarities between Vinicius’ rise and that of Mbappe and Martial.
“Mbappe, Martial and Vinicius – they all started their first-team careers slowly,” he said.
|Before they were 19…|
|Player||Kylian Mbappe||Anthony Martial||Vinicius Junior|
|Stats provided by Opta (league only)|
“Maybe that will benefit Vinicius.
“Not many people in Europe had heard of him before but he played with the reserves and the youngsters, and that has given him time to adapt to life in Madrid.
“It’s very similar with Mbappe who was very impatient at the beginning at Monaco. But he got his chance at the right time and really took it.
“Vinicius was the number one choice on the left hand side for the El Clasico game on Wednesday and Bale was only the number two.”