“The way to ensure Real Madrid don’t miss out on the next Kylian Mbappé is to sign him when he’s just out of his crib.” That’s what Alfredo Relaño, the editor of Madrid-based Diario AS, wrote of the European champions’ new signing policy, in which Los Blancos set out to bring in the best players of 2027, rather than the best of 2017. Once upon a time they actually wanted to have to break transfer records to sign their ‘Galácticos’, but that’s no longer sustainable in modern football’s inflated transfer market.
Brazilian prospect Vinícius Júnior exemplifies this change of heart. Real Madrid paid Flamengo €45m to sign the forward back in May of this year, when he was still just 16 years of age, a price which made the top 40 of all-time transfer fees. There is a good chance that this could eventually turn out to be a bargain, but it was obviously a significant amount to pay on a player who couldn’t even move to Madrid yet, given that he was underage. He still is a minor and won’t turn 18 until July 12th 2018, meaning that next summer’s transfer window is the earliest the rising star could be brought to the Spanish capital.
According to recent reports from the Madrid press, that is exactly when those in the offices of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu want Vinícius Júnior to come. The initial deal with Flamengo had July 2019 pencilled in as his estimated time of arrival, but there was a clause that would allow him to make the move earlier with the agreement of both parties.
This, though, could be a major error. It’s simply too soon for him to link up with his future employers. While there is a chance of a major departure from Real Madrid next summer, the likelihood is that the majority of Isco, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema will all still be at the club, meaning minutes will be hard to come by for this raw talent. Of course, Castilla – Real Madrid’s B team – is there for youngsters like Vinícius Júnior to gain experience when not featuring for Zinedine Zidane’s side, yet they are currently 10th in their Segunda B group and are destined to remain in the semi-pro third tier of Spanish football for the 2018/19 season. Flamengo, Vinícius Júnior’s current club, will be going up against much better quality opposition than Castilla in the Brazilian top flight and in the Copa Libertadores. So wouldn’t it be better for him to remain in Rio de Janeiro to continue his development at a club where he’ll have both sufficient playing time and a sufficient challenge?
This, though, does not appear to be Real Madrid’s plan for Vinícius Júnior. If the recent reports are to be believed, then they want him in time for next summer’s pre-season tours, after which he can expect to warm the Santiago Bernabéu bench for the majority of the 2018/19 season.
One of the problems with being in Brazil is that the first division, the 2017 edition of which wrapped up last weekend, doesn’t return again until next May, meaning that the only competition for Flamengo and Vinícius Júnior between now and then will be in the lower quality state championships. However, a move to Real Madrid next July wouldn’t solve this issue. Whether or not Los Blancos sign the forward in summer 2018, winter 2019 or summer 2019, he will legally have to remain in Brazil during next spring’s state championship slog. Removing him from Flamengo’s squad next summer, just as the Brazilian Série A would be getting back underway and just after he’d have survived the footballing famine of spring, would be like sending a kid to stand in the queue for Disneyland, only to return to collect them when next in line.
The best time to bring Vinícius Júnior to Madrid, then, could be in January of 2019, just after he’ll have played another top-flight season in his home country and just before the next Brazilian footballing off-season. That’s what Manchester City did when they allowed Gabriel Jesus to complete another Série A campaign with Palmeiras, before bringing him to England. Both the player and Pep Guardiola have since stated that the timing of the move turned out perfectly.
This, though, does not appear to be Real Madrid’s plan for Vinícius Júnior. If the recent reports are to be believed, then they want him in time for next summer’s pre-season tours, after which he can expect to warm the Santiago Bernabéu bench for the majority of the 2018/19 season. That’s exactly what has happened to Dani Ceballos, another player Real Madrid signed young, pre-empting a surge in his transfer fee. Yet 14 weeks into the LaLiga season, the man who was Real Betis’ player of the 2016/17 season and the star of Spain’s Under-21s European Championships bid has played just 167 minutes, the third-fewest in the Real Madrid squad after backup striker Borja Mayoral and the injured Mateo Kovacic. It’s not as if Ceballos hasn’t been performing well, as he has two goals to his name from those 167 minutes; he simply cannot compete for minutes with the other midfield talent in the squad. Then there’s the case of left-back Theo Hernández, who was brought in at 19 years of age after starring for Alavés last campaign. However, he has can boast just 297 LaLiga minutes compared to the 858 of Marcelo, even though the veteran Brazilian has been in poor form, has missed two games through injury and has served a one-match suspension too.
Move to Spain next summer, and Vinícius Júnior will surely find it as difficult to take playing time from Real Madrid’s attacking talent as Ceballos has found it going up against their midfield maestros and as Theo Hernández has found it against Marcelo. Acquiring the rights to players at a young age can be a great strategy for Real Madrid, but only if those players are allowed to complete their development before being dropped off on the Santiago Bernabéu bench.