When the FIFA U-17 World Cup road show comes to town in a month’s time, there will be one performer in particular who will be the cynosure of all eyes.
What's so special about him, you ask?
At the South American U-17 Championships held in February-March earlier this year, Brazil ran through opponents like a scythe cutting through weeds. Chile were mauled 5-0. Venezuela dismembered 4-0. Peru, Ecuador and Colombia slayed 3-0. Eternal arch-rival Argentina brushed aside 2-0.
"This Brazil team is one that has been competing against great teams in the world, in Asia, Europe and South America. It has been behaving very positively and playing quite offensively. We play a brand of football that is competitive, yet pleasant. A style of football where we are always seeking to score but also defend our goal very well. The main characteristic of this team is to work very evenly between attack and defence," Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu had told Firstpost back in July in an email interview.
This U-17 outfit is a team that we associate with Brazil. A team from Brazil that we are used to. Not the one that lost 1-7 in the World Cup on their home turf in 2014. Not one that, let alone winning, fail to even make it to the final of the Copa America. Twice in two years!
This is the Brazil that neutrals everywhere boast about supporting at each World Cup. A team which has the same qualities as the ones from the past which centred around Pele and Garrincha. And then around Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. And now does around Neymar.
"You need to respect the identity of your country. Brazilian football is known internally and externally for the beautiful game, so we cannot escape it. I believe in winning, but playing well, is the main goal. We excel at this competitiveness, but we have to play good football," Amadeu added.
This new generation of Brazil footballers revolves around Vinicius. He scored seven goals at the South American U-17 Championships earlier this year to help Brazil win the title. That's not all, he was the highest scorer and the best player at the event.
In October, he'll be the world most expensive footballer to play at the U-17 World Cup. He's destined to end the tournament in a blaze of headlines. "Most expensive teen fails to justify €46 million price tag" or "Vinicius shows why Real Madrid were right to splurge €46 million on the teenager". Over-rated youngster or the next Neymar.
For him, there's no middle ground.
So what if he's only 17.
Quem me viu, mentiu! 👀 pic.twitter.com/YPV0XKydpY
— Flamengo (@Flamengo) June 15, 2017
*** He is the face of Nike campaigns with legends like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Another legend, Pele, gets asked about him at press conferences. Neymar sends him video messages. And he's only 17.
1,46,000 people follow him on Twitter. 6,70,000 people on Instagram. To watch him post pictures of himself pool-side flaunting his abs. Or pictures of him celebrating after having hoodwinked defences. Or those of him where he’s goofing around with his tongue sticking out at the camera.
After all, he's only 17.
— Vinicius Jr (@vini11Oficial) April 26, 2017
Barcelona wanted him. Real Madrid got him. By throwing €46 million. That's €6 million less than what Barcelona paid Guanzhou Evergrande for Paulinho. €7 million more than what Liverpool paid Roma for Mohamed Salah, their costliest signing ever.
And he's still only 17.
Brazil last won the U-17 World Cup in 2003. This time there's hope. There are expectations like nothing you can imagine. The weight of expectations of a country which treats the sport like their second co-opted religion. And they have to deliver. For that, Vinicius has to deliver.
Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu believes that Vinicius is someone who is not easily swayed by hype.
"During the South American Sub-17, we experienced a lot of hype around our players, especially about Vinicius, who was generating interest from big clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid who were interested in him. We talked to the athletes about the unprecedented attention because of this. They showed a very mature outlook on these things, especially Vinícius. At no time has he seemed to be getting carried away with the attention. This shows how much they (Brazil's footballers) are prepared to live with," he had told Firstpost back in July.
At 17, Vinicius will have to live with some of the pressures that none of his compatriots like Pele or Ronaldinho had to contend with at such a young age: a €46 million tag and the compulsion to play beautiful football and drag the country to its first U-17 World Cup title since 2003.
What headlines will he make in India when the World Cup starts? We'll see about that.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 18:17:07 IST