'Evolving' Vinicius Junior picks Champions League over Ballon d'Or


'Evolving' Vinicius Junior picks Champions League over Ballon d'Or

Vinicius has developed into one of the biggest stars in football
Vinicius has developed into one of the biggest stars in footballAFP
The campaign for Vinicius Junior (23) to land his first Ballon d'Or is well underway, but the Real Madrid forward has his priorities straight.

Before worrying about individual accolades, the Brazilian attacker is aiming to claim a second Champions League triumph on Saturday when Los Blancos face Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

Vinicius was the man who brought Real Madrid their record 14th European Cup in 2022, stealing into the area from the left and pouncing from close range in the 1-0 win over Liverpool.

It was a simple finish but one he had failed to make before, multiple times, in what proved a tricky start to life at Madrid.

Thrown into the void left by departed all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018, Vinicius started off as a laughing stock, given his profligacy.

After coach Carlo Ancelotti returned for a second stint at the helm in 2021, the Brazilian proved the main beneficiary.

After 14 goals in three seasons before the Italian's arrival, Vinicius netted 22 under Ancelotti's guidance.

The 22nd was in Paris against Jurgen Klopp's Reds, just reward for Vinicius' transformation.

It was no fluke, with the forward adding 23 goals the following year and he has 23 again ahead of the final against Bundesliga side Dortmund.

Vinicius has also profited from Ancelotti changing the system this season to accommodate Jude Bellingham's arrival and plug defensive deficiencies.

Ancelotti has largely deployed Vinicius as a central striker, a role which the winger took time to adapt to.

"Now I can play in more positions and that's how I've made my game a lot better than when I arrived here," Vinicius told reporters ahead of the final.

"I keep evolving, and I want to keep evolving until the last day of my career, as Toni Kroos is doing."

German midfield metronome Kroos has been one of several good influences keeping the 23-year-old calm amid the focus and pressure.

Ancelotti's guidance is crucial though and one of his greatest feats has been to turn Vinicius from a rough diamond into an elite star.

"I feel comfortable with whatever the coach tells me, because he has changed me as a player," continued Vinicius.

"He gave me the confidence that I need and where he tells me to go, I have to be.

"At first I was not convinced about playing inside, now I am very happy to be played there - he always told me that I would score goals, and I didn't believe it. And in the end, things have gone well."

Time to improve

After three goals in his first 11 games of the season and new arrival Bellingham taking the limelight, Vinicius did not sulk.

A thigh muscle tear in November appeared a further setback, keeping him out of action until January.

However those weeks out proved time well spent, as Vinicius worked to understand his role better and came back with a bang.

"I had time to work on what I normally don't work on, to think about my game and everything I could do to evolve it... and arrive at the most important phase of the season with a better level," he explained.

Vinicius has 17 goals in his last 23 games, including a brace against Bayern Munich in the semi-final when he ran Joshua Kimmich ragged.

No longer able to laugh at Vinicius, some opposition fans have turned instead to hate. The past two seasons have seen a spate of ugly racial abuse cases aimed at him when playing on the road in Spain.

"(Racism) is something I cannot control, but I always try to keep calm," said Vinicius.

Fortunately in recent weeks the abuse has died away and Vinicius has been able to focus on football.

Asked if he would take a 1-0 win over Dortmund like two years ago against Liverpool, with him scoring the winner, Vinicius replied "for sure".

"With a goal from anyone," he continued, aiming for the Champions League above any individual considerations.

"I've never thought about (winning the Ballon d'Or)," said Vinicius.

"The best thing that can happen this season is winning the Champions League."


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