How is €45m Real Madrid signing Vinicius Junior developing at Flamengo?

Vinicius Junior Flamengo

In Vinicius Junior, will Real Madrid be landing the next Neymar or the next Keirrison? It is not always easy to guess how even the most talented youngsters will step up when swapping Brazil's Serie A for the hustle and bustle of European football.

Some make the transition with apparent ease. Neymar quickly settled into life at Barcelona and became a Camp Nou favourite, while before him stars like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and even Robinho – before the ex-Santos forward's career went off the rails – also made positive early impacts after crossing the Atlantic.

The flip side, of course, are those who fail to make the grade: The aforementioned Keirrison, a superstar in his first days with Coritiba and Palmeiras, flopped miserably with Barca, while ex-Betis man Denilson is another infamous example of the pressures involved in stepping up to La Liga.

It is far too early to gauge what lies in wait for Vinicius at the Bernabeu. But what is perfectly clear from his fine debut season in Brazil is that the forward is a sparkling prospect at the tender age of 17.

Vinicius made his professional bow for Flamengo as recently as May 2017, at just 16 and days prior to sealing a €45 million switch to Real Madrid. He went on to appear in 25 Serie A games and made seven further appearances in Fla's run to the Copa Sudamericana final, scoring on four occasions.

Vinicius Junior Flamengo Independiente Copa Sudamericana 13122017
Vinicius Jr Felipe Vizeu Flamengo Palestino Copa Sudamericana 09082017

It is clear that the Rio de Janeiro giants are at pains to ease their wonderkid into action. Just four games in those two competitions have seen him line up from kick off: He has mostly been used as an impact substitution in the last 10-15 minutes, using his impressive pace and ability to further tax tiring defences.

That policy paid dividends in Flamengo's Sudamericana quarter-final against Rio rivals Fluminense. Vinicius changed the face of the game after entering in the second half, helping his team fight back from two goals down to grab a 3-3 draw and progress to the last four. Playing on his favoured left flank and causing mayhem, the youngster brought to mind the first steps taken by Neymar at Santos as he dismantled beleaguered Flu.

Those closest to Vinicius, however, are trying to keep his feet on the ground. "I'm happy to see what we thought back then, what we thought might happen with him, is happening, but I think it's still too early. He is 16 and in a process of development Flamengo,” Ze, the youngster's former youth coach, explained back in May during an interview with Goal.

Indeed, an ineffective cameo in the Copa final itself against Independiente showed that there is still a long way to go in his development. Thrown on again after the break in a losing position, Vinicius was bullied out of the game by the Argentine side's uncompromising marking, and grew frustrated enough to pick up a booking as Fla slumped to defeat.

That game betrayed deficiencies in his physique that will have to be worked on before the youngster is ready to step up for regular action in the Flamengo first team, let alone for Madrid. The good news is that he has plenty of time to continue honing his trade prior to the big move.

Vinicius will technically become a Blanco in July, upon turning 18. On that date a further loan deal is expected to keep him in Rio for a further 12 months. Staying patient, the forward has insisted that he will not rush his move in 2018.

Vinicius PS

"Nothing has been decided yet and I've only been on holiday for three days so my plan is to start thinking about the future in the new year,” Vinicius told reporters in his homeland in December, shortly before travelling to Madrid as a guest of the club to watch their Clasico defeat at the hands of Barcelona.

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“I plan to stay here through to the end of 2018 and after I win the Libertadores, then it'll be time to move to another club.”

The timeline for development is thus clearly marked out. Vinicius will likely play a starring role in Flamengo's Rio State Championship curtain-raiser that runs from January to April, a tournament that mixes clashes against part-timers with fierce Carioca derbies, which should be a fine test of his mettle. A strong showing there would be the prelude to more involvement in the first team going into Serie A and the Copa Libertadores, where a real gauge of his ability will be available.

Then, and only then, will Vinicius be ready to step up to the challenge of La Liga; and Madrid will find out if the player on which they have staked the club's future is ready for the big time.