Vinicius Jr’s emphatic finish against Manchester City wasn’t the type of goal he usually scores. This strike, a 20-yard screamer that singed the fingertips of Ederson, was an unexpected effort from a player who has spent his career weaving his way into the opposition box.

But now, that same winger can now hit them from distance — and have the confidence to do so in big games. Such an evolution is the hallmark of a footballer who is constantly improving. And it’s perhaps been lost in the carousel of chaos that is Real Madrid’s season, but Vinicius keeps getting better.

At this point, there are very few attacking players who are more impactful, versatile, or exciting to watch in the world. Once regarded as a failure, too flamboyant and inefficient for the top levels of European football, Vinicius has become arguably the best in the world at his position.

With his contract due to expire at the end of next season, there appears to be some jeopardy as to where his future might lie. Scattered reports have suggested that the player has already agreed to a new deal behind the scenes — something that has perhaps become lost in Spanish football’s obsession with Vinicius’ character.

Still, regardless of the validity to those claims, one thing is clear: Real Madrid need to do whatever it takes to keep him at Santiago Bernabeu for as long as they can.

A season to remember

There shouldn’t really be any doubt in this process. Vinicius is one of the best players in the world and Madrid have helped curate his development. There are no obvious barriers to a new deal being done, or reported issues in getting it over the line. This should be the simplest of formalities.

Vinicius, with 20 goals and 18 assists, has been Madrid’s best player in 2022-23 — consistently carrying the offensive load left over by the oft-injured Karim Benzema.

But there has been something particularly impactful about Vinicius in recent months. The Brazilian has never really been the singular star player of this Madrid side before. He was certainly involved, but the team never really centered around him. Now, though, Vinicius wants to be on the ball at every opportunity. And with that responsibility, he’s become far more refined.

In the past, there were perhaps too many touches. Samba flair is integral to the winger’s game, but he occasionally overplayed, almost tried too hard to wow the crowd — at the detriment of his quality in the box. This season, though, the winger has streamlined that process. The rainbow flicks, elasticos, croquetas and stepovers are all here. But each one is purposeful and direct. Just ask Kyle Walker, Vinicius’ most recent victim.

There’s now something really scary about Vinicius: he can embarrass you with serious intent. That’s a rare quality for players of his profile. There are arguably too many in his position who do too much, or make the wrong decision. This version of Vinicius doesn’t often make poor decisions. And if he misses a pass, or makes the wrong run, it’s often from clinical desire, or personal expression — rather than the absent-mindedness that came to define some of his early days in a Madrid shirt.

Madrid’s shield

It’s all quite new from a player that was linked with a Madrid exit less than three years ago. Vinicius’ rise to the top has been rather rapid. At the start of the 2021-22 season, he was still a player of great, but perhaps unfulfilled potential. It mattered little to the detractors that he was just 21-years-old. Madrid are a results-driven proposition, and Vinicius had spent over two years failing to deliver with consistency.

But things have turned around remarkably quickly. Certainly, Benzema has to be credited. The French striker famously refused to work with Vinicius in his early days at the club, but they have since developed a devastating on-field partnership.

It helps, too, that Carlo Ancelotti has set up a system that allows him to stay as high up the pitch as possible — with first Ferland Mendy and more recently Eduardo Camavinga offering defensive cover. On the pitch, Los Blancos have curated a perfect tactical setup for him to flourish.

However, it is perhaps Madrid’s protection of Vinicius the person that has been of most value to his burgeoning career. Opposing fans have regularly abused him – a lot of times with overt racism – this season, while on-field opponents have realised that he can be rattled easily. The two often work in tandem. In Madrid’s contest with Real Valladolid in January, he was clattered consistently and chirped at by opposing defenders. And when Vinicius reacted with words of his own, fans hurled abuse from the Jose Zorrilla Stadium rafters.

That’s hardly been an isolated incident, though. These stories seem to come out weekly, with Vinicius at one point appearing in court to testify about the chants directed at him. And Madrid have protected him through all of this. Ancelotti has repeatedly said that he needs more protection from referees, while team-mates have also called for opposing defenders to be booked more often when they clatter the young Brazilian.

No athlete needs shielding quite like Vinicius. And Real Madrid have done it expertly.


Where else could he go?

It’s hard to see anywhere else offering Vinicius what he needs, on and off the pitch. At this point, the winger could have his pick of teams. At his age, with his talent and marketability, it is almost certain that all the big names would be in the mix for his signature.

But just exactly who could provide a better setting for Vinicius the character and footballer is tricky to identify. Chelsea, Manchester United, Man City and Paris Saint-Germain all certainly have the funds to some degree, but none offer the same appeal.

Chelsea have too many wingers and are yet to officially appoint a permanent manager. United also have too many wide forwards and need players at other positions. City, meanwhile, are not short of attacking threats, and would arguably deny Vinicius the creative freedom he needs. And PSG are their own, maddeningly confusing state of affairs, a place that, as history has shown, doesn’t always get the best out of attacking players.

No one can really match Madrid for sporting appeal, either. In Fede Valverde, Rodrygo, Aurelien Tchouameni, Camavinga and Eder Militao, Los Blancos have a spine of potentially world-class players who project to remain at the club for years to come. Add to that the expected signing of Jude Bellingham this summer and the pending arrival of Brazilian teenager Endrick, and there is no better project for him to spearhead.

The Mbappe question

Kylian Mbappe might have done Real Madrid a favour in all of this. Last month, after being sparingly linked with a move to the Spanish capital for most of the season, Mbappe casually announced that he would stay in Paris for another year. It was an odd way to quell talk of a transfer saga destined to drag on for months. But for Madrid, and Vinicius, it is perhaps a relief that Mbappe will delay his expected arrival.

If Madrid had executed their swoop for Mbappe this summer, it might have left Vinicius in an uncertain situation. The two are positionally similar players, as both he and Mbappe prefer to play off the left. Both demand the ball, ideally in space and on the run. Both need to stay high up the pitch to allow their side to hit on the break.

Mbappe is a better goalscorer and Vinicius is a better dribbler. Mbappe could conceivably play through the middle, and Vinicius, if needed, could play on the right. These are not identical players. But bringing Mbappe in this summer — at the very point where they need to sign their current superstar to a long-term deal — might have created some problems. The duo will perhaps share a pitch in Madrid within 18 months. But short term, if Vinicius wasn’t guaranteed a multi-year deal, there could have been friction at Santiago Bernabeu.

Instead, Madrid now have a clear window to sort out one player before they go after another.


Save elsewhere, spend on what you have

At this point, then, it’s a numbers game. Madrid are recovering from the financial commitment made towards renovating their famous stadium, and have frozen major contracts for a few years now. Vinicius has the chance to become the first big outlay, then.

The Brazilian is currently the fifth-highest earner at the club. He makes €400,000 (£350,000/$435,000) per week, €200,000 short of the perhaps slightly imprudent investment that was Eden Hazard.

Vinicius will likely want a significant pay rise. The good news for Madrid is that there should be some funds around to meet his demand. The expected departures of Dani Ceballos and Mariano Diaz will help save some cash, while Nacho and Marco Asensio are both on hefty wages, too, and are yet to pen new deals. And although Bellingham will be expensive, signing Vinicius to a new deal would be far more cost-efficient than the hundreds of millions associated with the transfer of perhaps the world’s best teenager. Madrid can do both.

Perhaps most importantly, though, this is Madrid. The Spanish giants have been less lavish in their signatures than in the Galactico days of old, but are still seldom afraid to throw around cash. And this is one of the players that wage structures and fiscal prudence are worth casting aside for.

Vinicius deserves whatever Los Blancos can afford — and perhaps some of what they really shouldn’t spend, too.

By Lylla

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