The change of coach meant a complete change in approach.
Solari started the attacker in his first game in charge, a Copa del Rey game against UD Melilla, and the signs were already promising that evening. Doing well against lower level opposition is one thing though, and doing it against Spain’s elite is another.
On Saturday, the youngster stepped up and did just that, playing 90 solid minutes at the Santiago Bernabéu against Sevilla, his toughest opponent yet.Transforming Vinicius from cameo-maker to a consistent La Liga starter in under three months reflects excellently on Solari, but it also says much about the 18-year-old.
The amount of pressure on his shoulders should not be under stated. In a season that has ranged from dismal to passable, in which Madrid fans have been desperately searching for someone to get excited about post-Cristiano Ronaldo, Vinicius quickly and unfairly became the cross-bearer expected to give the European Champions the jolt they needed to awaken from their Lopetegui-era slumber.
The forward will be aware of those expectations – he has to be. A quick glance at Marca or AS, ubiquitously sprawled across newsstands all over the Spanish capital, is all it would take.Thankfully for Madrid, Vinicius appears to possess maturity beyond his years, demonstrable for all to see in his performance against Sevilla. For a player who is such an exceptional dribbler, he is notably resistant to showboating, invariably making the right decision that improves the move for his team instead of risking a loss of possession in the pursuit of individual plaudits.
When he got the better of Mudo Vazquez with half an hour gone on Saturday for example, the temptation to try and beat another man must surely have been there. Instead, Vinicius quickly looked up and picked out Karim Benzema who was in a better position to take a shot.Or when he did pull off a dribble such as on the hour mark, instead of forcing a risky shot through the slightest of openings, he smoothly laid the ball off to Dani Ceballos then kept running to drag a marker.
That opened up room for the midfielder to strike, almost resulting in the opening . Pasted Madrid 3-0 at the Sánchez Pizjuán in September but haven’t won here since 2008.
Jesus Navas was still in the team that day, think he’s even quicker now. Vinicius may just give him a run for his money today.
Tweets Dribbling when suitable, not dribbling when it wasn’t, being generous in his passing either forward or backward if necessary, and showing a determination to resolve tricky situations in tight spaces to help his team: the Brazilian may not have scored or picked up an assist, and as a result won’t show up in the highlights packages, but this was an excellent all-round performance that bodes very well.It isn’t a one off either.
Also promising is his run of three league starts in a row, completing 90 minutes in all of them (the consecutive starts totalling five if the Copa del Rey is included).
If handled carefully Vinicius could already be an important player as the crunch stage of the season draws close.Why Vinicius Junior was the key to Santiago Solari getting Real Madrid jobThat isn’t to say he can’t improve.
End product is clearly the area that needs the most work: the Brazilian had a number of shooting opportunities against Sevilla but either lacked the conviction or accuracy to make them count.
If he can add better finishing to his game – and graft on the training ground will help with that – then the teenager will possess all of the tools necessary to be an elite level winger.Importantly, Vinicius appears to already have the mental side down. Decision making, maturity, restraint – arguably the toughest traits to acquire – they’re all there.
Important too is that Solari has managed to strike the right balance between nurturing and challenging his unpolished gem, giving him game time but also reminding everyone in public that he should be “looked after because he’s still an 18-year-old”.
Real Madrid may yet look for a new coach in the summer, but if the Argentinian can complete his ongoing work with Vinicius, he will leave behind a gift that should provide benefits both now and for years to come.