Vinicius Junior's stance against the racist abuse he has received has received support from around the world
Barcelona (AFP) - Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior has developed into La Liga’s most devastating player on the pitch while his battle with racism is making a worldwide impact off it.
The 22-year-old Brazilian forward drew global support after making a stand against racist abuse he received on Sunday from Valencia supporters at their Mestalla stadium.
Vinicius faced off with home fans and pointed one out after being called a “monkey”, later taking to social media to say La Liga “belongs to racists”.
The Brazilian made several posts condemning his continuously vile treatment in Spain, provoking worldwide scrutiny of the situation.
Vinicius’ rise to the game’s peak in the past two seasons has been meteoric, since arriving from Flamengo in 2018 for 46 million euros ($50 million).
Born in Sao Goncalo, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Vinicius emerged as a teenage talent, boasting skill, rare dribbling ability and speed, becoming his club’s then-youngest ever player at 16.
Los Blancos quickly struck for his signature in 2017, locking in his future arrival, looking to the Brazilian market after Barcelona’s success with Neymar.
When Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus after the World Cup in Russia that summer, Vinicius was thrown into the team in his stead but the 18-year-old struggled initially to find consistency.
His erratic finishing drew mockery from opposition fans, managing only 14 goals in 118 appearances across all competitions in his first three seasons.
However in the 2021-22 campaign Vinicius improved drastically under returning Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, netting 22 goals, including the winner against Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Vinicius has confirmed his rise was no false dawn in the current season, scoring 23 goals to date and wreaking havoc on defences both domestically and in Europe.
“Vinicius is the most decisive player in world football today,” said Ancelotti in April.
The Brazilian is the most fouled player in the league and the player with the most successful take-ons and progressive carries.
“When he arrived with us, especially during the first period, he was under tremendous pressure, he was fodder for memes,” Madrid defender Dani Carvajal said earlier in May, before the Copa del Rey final.
“To receive such criticism so young and to be among the three or four best in the world is something that I have seen very rarely.
“Everything he now is, is well-earned, he has worked hard physically and mentally.”
Vinicius made his World Cup debut for Brazil in November last year and has been offered vigorous support from his homeland.
Unfortunately, Vinicius’s soaring ascent in Spain has been accompanied with torrents of abhorrent abuse on away trips across the country.
- No end -
The latest flashpoint may prove to be a pivotal moment, with Ancelotti demanding “drastic measures” against racism and labelling FIFA protocol “obsolete”.
Vinicius’ decision to square up to fans helped shine a stronger spotlight on an issue which is too often brushed under the carpet.
La Liga have reported nine incidents of racism aimed at Vinicius over the past two campaigns and have pledged to do so again after investigating the incidents at Mestalla, although there has been little impact until now.
Spanish police arrested three supporters in Valencia as a result and four Atletico Madrid ultras in the capital, after they hung an effigy of Vinicius from a bridge.
Vinicius Junior pointed to spectators after being racially abused against Valencia
The country has often tangled with racism in football, with English internationals abused in 2004, soon after Spain coach Luis Aragones called French footballer Thierry Henry a racial slur.
Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o warned in 2005 that racism was becoming more widespread in Spanish football and nearly two decades later, his words ring true.
Vinicius is bearing the brunt of it, although other black footballers including Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams have also been attacked.
Some inexplicably blame Vinicius’ “provocations” for the abuse he has received, with the player fond of rows with opposition players and frequently argumentative with referees.
“Vini is a victim of what is happening, he is not to blame, that’s certain,” said Ancelotti Tuesday, pouring scorn on the idea.
“Sometimes people say that he provokes, or talk about his attitude. No, let it be clear – Vini is the victim in all this.”
Even La Liga chief Javier Tebas hit out at Vinicius for his complaints about the lack of action over racist abuse, to which Vinicius replied: “Instead of criticising racists, the president of La Liga appears on social media to attack me.”
It was another sign that the forward might be fighting against a broken system, with his actions applauded by many.