“You keep asking me about a player who plays for another team,” Carlo Ancelotti responded to the thousandth question he’s been asked about Kylian Mbappe.
“We already have the best players in the world here,” he continued, before naming them:
“In order: Vini Jr first, Bellingham second, Rodrygo third. Then Kroos, Valverde, Camavinga…”
You look at the way Vinicius Junior ripped apart Girona in Saturday’s La Liga title tussle and you actually believe him. This isn’t just lip service. It’s hard to look past the Brazilian when you catch him in that kind of mood.
It took just five minutes for Vinicius to open the scoring, firmly putting Girona in their place by drifting inside and unleashing a fierce strike that two ‘keepers couldn’t have stopped. It was a goal reminiscent of Real Madrid’s all-time greatest goalscorer at his very best, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Brazil, having produced Ballon d’Or winning greats like Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, haven’t had one since Kaka in 2017. Neymar – with podium finishes in 2015 and 2017 – has come as close as anyone in that time, but his move to PSG failed to deliver the individual recognition he craved.
Mbappe and Erling Haaland are yet to win football’s most prestigious individual accolade, but have been anointed to dominate the post Messi and Ronaldo era. But you look at Vinicius and you sense he might have a word to say about that. He’d have Ancelotti’s vote, anyway.
Having already won everything there is to win with Los Blancos, the best might still be yet to come from the 23-year-old. He’s entering his prime years and looks ready to dominate.
As his manager noted, this Madrid team is full of great players. Not least Jude Bellingham, who scored twice against Girona to take his tally to 20 goals for the campaign before Valentine’s Day. The 20-year-old now levels David Beckham as Madrid’s all-time top-scoring Englishman, having reached that milestone in 126 fewer appearances.
But the night belonged to Vinicius, and Bellingham’s second goal was all about the Brazilian, who completely toyed with his compatriot Yan Couto to dart into the box and shoot at goal, the effort eventually rebounding into the path of his team-mate for a tap-in.
That was arguably the finest moment of a perfect performance from Vinicius. The opener, two direct assists, and that. Outrageous.
It’s no wonder that poor Couto was in tears after the final whistle.
It brought to mind Maicon against Gareth Bale or Nelson Semedo against Alphonso Davies. Just one footballer – at the very top level, no less – as being fundamentally, brutally exposed as not being able to cope with their opposite number.
Vinicius went to comfort Couto after the final whistle. It was a warm embrace where the sentiment could be left unsaid; you’re not the first player I’ve done that to, sunshine (and you won’t be the last). The Manchester City academy graduate had been bested by Madrid’s No.7 for all four goals. The gulf in quality between those two sides almost entirely can be distilled almost entirely to that individual battle, won so emphatically and so savagely by one man.
Couto is no amateur. The 21-year-old has been a key player for Girona in their shock title challenge, with his performances rewarded by his first caps for Brazil – and reports from Spain that Madrid themselves are monitoring his progress.
“It was the best performance of the season. We did everything the coach asked of us. We pressed like we had to and then dropped deeper,” Vinicius said after the final whistle.
“That’s the difference. When this team is up for it, we’re very hard to beat. And this was top opposition today. We have to keep this up to win La Liga.”
Madrid have now put seven goals, without reply, past their closest challengers and have opened up a nice and comfortable five-point lead at the summit.
Everything is looking good for Madrid right now. There’s Endrick to come in the summer, and Mbappe appears increasingly likely to follow. Considering that’s on top of Vinicius and they might just be a new dynasty on the horizon.