News Matches

Vitor Roque: Brazilian football has found its new Ronaldo

7:00 AM EDT 7/8/22
Vitor Roque NXGN GFX

For more on the world's best young ballers, follow NXGN on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

Almost 30 years ago, Brazilian supporters were bewitched by a teenage Cruzeiro forward who was lighting up both domestic and continental matches with regularity.

Ronaldo Nazario. R9. O Fenomeno.

Having made his debut at the age of 16, Ronaldo scored at a rate of almost a goal a game during his year-long spell in the Cruzeiro first team before departing for Europe and worldwide fame.

It has taken nearly three decades for another attacker to emerge at the Mineirao and cause similar levels of excitement, but when Vitor Roque arrived into the senior side in 2021, the Ronaldo comparisons soon followed.

"He is going to fly so high," was the opinion of Ronaldo, now the owner of Cruzeiro, when asked about Vitor at the 2022.

That praise came at a time when the 17-year-old was in a run of form that saw him score six goals in seven games.

But it was not to last, as, like Ronaldo, he left the club before he was able to fully reach his potential.

Vitor's arrival at Cruzeiro in 2019 caused great controversy.

Having been in the America-MG academy since the age of 10, Cruzeiro were sued when they made an offer of a contract to the youngster amid accusations of tapping the player up while he was still a child.

Three years on, he departed in almost-as acrimonious circumstances, with Cruzeiro angry with the way in which the player's agents had convinced Vitor to move Athletico Paranaense for more regular first-team football.

A player, who had debuted for the Cruzeiro first team at the age of 16, just like Ronaldo, had been lost to a domestic rival.

Check out football's best wonderkids with NXGN:

As it was, Athletico paid a club-record €4.4 million (£3.7m/$4.5m) to sign Vitor in April 2022, and he has already begun making a return on that investment.

Six weeks after the deal had been completed, he became Athletico's youngest-ever league goalscorer, before backing that up by breaking the same record in the Copa Libertadores a month late with a superb strike against Paraguayan outfit Libertad.

Though capable of playing out wide, Vitor's best position is as a central striker, where he is able to make up for a lack of physicality with speed and intelligent movement, as well as composed finishing that belies his lack of experience.

It is those attributes that have most caught the eye of his new manager at Athletico, who coincidentally oversaw perhaps the most lethal period of Ronaldo's career: Luiz Felipe Scolari.

“Whatever we ask of him, he does, but his best position is No.9," former Brazil boss Scolari said of his young charge.

"He is someone who knows how to play in that area of the pitch, is able to constantly find space and participates well in other aspects of the game.

"He is the kind of No.9 that I wouldn't have wanted to mark when I was playing.

"He will grow a lot. He will be one of the players that Brazil will gain great pleasure from, and we will see if he will continue to develop in the position he plays."

Quite how long Scolari gets to work with 'the new Ronaldo' before he heads to Europe remains to be seen.

Real Madrid are said to have already shown an interest in signing the teenager, and they are unlikely to be the only Champions League contender to be watching Vitor closely.

Plying his trade at a stadium such as Santiago Bernabeu would be quite the journey for the boy who grew up in the small town of Timoteo in the south east of Brazil.

"There's no explanation, it's illogical," Vitor's father, Juvenal, said following Ronaldo's praise for his son.

"It's exciting to know that the best in the world is praising my son, and that he is following the path of O Fenomeno."

It would be some path to follow. But the early signs are that Vitor Roque is up to the challenge.