Another big Champions League night and another big moment for Vinícius Júnior, who fired in the opening goal during Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City in the first leg of their semi-final clash at the Santiago Bernabéu.
The Brazilian, who scored the winner in the final last year against Liverpool, hit the back of the net with a bullet like shot in the 36th minute.
It was another big goal for a player that completed his club football medal collection last weekend when Real Madrid beat Osasuna 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final.
He’s just 22-year-old, and his rise can best be summed up by the last 16 months as Los Bloncos won six trophies, a total clean sweep.
Vinícius Júnior is the uncrowned king of Madrid and already boasting similar achievements to previous aristocrats like Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, and Raul.
Yet, when it comes to talk about the best players on the continent, he is rarely brought up. All the discourse is dominated by Haaland and Mbappe.
It is this generation’s Messi v Ronaldo, except they don’t play in the same league. Haaland is with Manchester City and seems to break records every week in the Premier League. Mbappe is a World Cup winner with France, and a four-time Ligue 1 champion with PSG.
Messi Or Ronaldo?
While international trophies underpinned every Messi and Ronaldo argument, Mbappe and Haaland will one day be judged on their achievements in the Champions League.
While they’ve made their back gardens their own, Vinícius Júnior has taken over the whole neighbourhood as he writes his own story with Real Madrid.
His goal in the 2022 final is just one of seven that he has scored against English sides during the knock-out rounds of the Champions League.
Vinícius Júnior personally embodied the sense of resilience that Real Madrid paraded in Anfield as they came back from conceding two goals in the opening 15 minutes.
The future. #UCL pic.twitter.com/VYMgNG8g0v
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 9, 2023
That followed the Golden Ball for the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup, which is one of multiple individual awards that the forward has received.
Last season he was named the first ever UEFA Champions League Young Player of the Season, and he was in two different competition’s team of the tournament. This year, he has seven goals and six assists so far in the competition.
What does Vinícius Júnior have to do to be included in the conversation with Haaland and Mbappe? If medals and individual performances aren’t enough of a justification, what does a player have to do to be considered in the 1% of the 1%?
Vinícius Júnior could finish this season with his second Champions League winners medal and over 25 goals scored in all competitions.
Is it because is rise went largely unnoticed, given his quiet start? He graduated to the first team in 2018 as they looked to find an identity after the departures of Zidane as manager and Ronaldo as the talismanic leader of the club.
Vinícius Júnior only averaged four goals during his first two seasons and he exploded in 2021/22 with 22 in 52 appearences.
This powered Real to three trophies and back to the top of the European game, while players like Mbappe struggled to assert themselves in a similar way in the Champions League.
Maybe it suits the forward, to be away from the pressure and comparisons so he can continuing scoring goals and winning trophies with Real Madrid.
Whatever ranking that people have for him, it’ll be secondary to his already complete club football medal collection.