Vinicius Junior is not only one of the most promising footballers on the planet plying his trade at Real Madrid, but is also a seriously inspirational human being in general.
Born in Sao Goncalo, Brazil, he’d made his first team debut for Flamengo at 16, and was being signed by Real in a £38m transfer which would activate on his 18th birthday just weeks later.
It wasn’t easy for him when he first moved over to Europe, but in the years since, the 22-year-old has blossomed into one of the most creative and explosive wingers on the planet.
The sky is the limit for Vinicius in football, which makes it an even greater shame that the beautiful game he gives so much to is tainted by deep-routed racism, which he continues to be subjected to.
But, in the face of adversity, Vinicius has always prevailed. We’ve recounted seven times he showed just how much of an inspiration he really is.
To say that Yan Couto was given a torrid time by Vinicius in Girona’s 4-0 defeat away to Real Madrid would be underselling it. Vinicius made mincemeat of his Brazil team-mate, directly beating him in the build-up to all four of Madrid’s goals.
Couto was in tears after the final whistle, having been given the runaround by Vinicius. The Madrid superstar sought him out and comforted him. Proper sportsmanship, that.
Calling out La Liga
“The championship that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano and Messi today belongs to racists,” Vinicius wrote after another example of appalling racist abuse back in May.
“It wasn’t the first time, nor the second, nor the third. Racism is normal in La Liga. The competition thinks it’s normal, the Federation does too and the opponents encourage it. A beautiful nation, which welcomed me and which I love, but which agreed to export the image of a racist country to the world. I’m sorry for the Spaniards who don’t agree, but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.”
In a time where victims like Vincius are told to bite their tongue, the Brazilian spoke out, criticising those who don’t do enough to expel such disgusting behaviour from the game. He later went on to criticise La Liga president Javier Tebas.
“Once again, instead of criticizing racists, the president of LaLiga appears on social media to attack me,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “As much as you talk and pretend not to read, the image of your championship is shaken. See the responses to your posts and have a surprise… Omitting yourself only makes you equal to racists. I’m not your friend to talk about racism. I want actions and punishments. Hashtag doesn’t move me.”
Launching an education app
Vinicius launched an education app named ‘BASE’ in 2021 in his native Brazil, with the aim of improving literacy and making education more accessible for children in his country and the region he grew up in.
In order to do so, he was the sole investor, putting in some $2 million.
His non-profit charity also donated a further 10 mobile devices to the elementary school he attended in Sao Goncalo so that pupils had access to the app.
Instituto Vini Jr
The Vini Jr Institution was launched in 2021 and continues to raise money to improve education for children in schools in Brazil, where the funding does not allow access to full schooling and creates issues with literacy as a result.
In 2022, celebrating the first anniversary of the institution with a gala in Rio de Janeiro, Vinicius told AS: “I always dreamed of this moment. I always dreamed of making my family’s dreams come true, which is none other than to help those who need it as much as I did when i was younger. It has only been a year since we started our work at the Vinicius Jr. Institution, but we are already helping lots of people.
“For me, celebrating a year of my Institution and everything that we are doing is as important as scoring a goal in the Champions League final. It has been a very special season and now I am going for more.”
Dancing in the face of adversity
Being racially abused in Spain unfortunately isn’t a new problem for Vinicius.
Earlier on in the 2022-23 season, Spanish agent Pedro Bravo said that Vinicius should ‘stop playing the monkey’ after he celebrated a goal against Mallorca with one of his signature dances.
The agent later apologised and tried to claim the comment was not racially charged and instead more to do with a lack of respect, but Vinicius wasn’t having it. And rightfully so. On Twitter, he said: “As long as the colour of the skin is more important than the brightness of the eyes, there will be war.
“I have that phrase tattooed on my body. I have this thought permanently in my head. And I have attitudes in my life that turn this philosophy into reality.
“They say that happiness bothers. The happiness of a black Brazilian being successful in Europe bothers much more.
“But my will to win, my smile and the sparkle in my eyes are much bigger than that. Don’t even try to imagine how much.
“They are dances to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world. Accept it! Respect it! Or freak out… In any case, I will not stop!”
Charity football match participation
As early as 2018, Vinicius was taking part in charity football games. He played in Neymar’s ‘Amigos de Neymar’ charity match hosted in Brazil in 2018.
And amid his incredibly busy football schedule and own charity commitments, he took time out in 2022 to play a part in another charity game hosted by Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos in Miami.
A crowd pleaser and an incredibly selfless individual.
Thriving after a tough start
Those new to football would watch Vinicius Junior and merely assume that’s he’s always been a world beater, but that isn’t the case.
His mega-money move in 2018 was met with insane fanfare and media coverage, with the pressure immediately piled onto football’s next big thing.
It’s very easy to cave under the pressure of being Brazil’s next superstar and the young up-and-comer that the biggest club in world football has just spent a record fee on, and many wanted him to. Vinicius started slow, but continued to plug away and is now comfortably one of the best players in the world, with an exceptional trophy cabinet.
At just 22, he’s also scored the winning goal in a Champions League final. Mentality monster.
Inspired by greats
Speaking after the launch of his education app with The Guardian in 2021, Vinicius also discussed the sportsmen who inspire him to push for change.
“My first concern was to help these young kids to achieve more via education. Football is a dream, but isn’t it wonderful if we can help kids to get out of poverty by studying? My goal is to make it happen in the medium and long term,” He explained.
“We need more doctors, lawyers, engineers coming out of the favelas. We intend to give opportunities to them.”
He continued: “I’ve been inspired by what LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton and Marcus Rashford are doing. So I began doing something for my neighbourhood first, but who knows if it can grow across Brazil.”
The trio have all made extraordinary humanitarian efforts of their own.