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Soccer

It’s All Coming Together For Vinícius

Lisandro Martínez of Argentina competes for the ball with Vinicius Junior of Brazil during a match between Argentina and Brazil as part of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers at San Juan del Bicentenario Stadium on November 16, 2021 in San Juan, Argentina.
Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images

Spanish soccer is presently at the lowest point yet of a swift and steady decline that has been going on for years now. Because of that, you might not have noticed that Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Vinícius is in the midst of a legitimate explosion. If so, I humbly request that you watch the following 27-second clip from Tuesday’s Brazil vs. Argentina match to get just an inkling of how loud and fiery the eruption of his talent has been:

Vinícius, still just 21 years old, has had the physique and technical ability to dominate grown men in open space since back when he still had a mouthful of braces. His gifts marked him for greatness from the very start. There’s a reason why Real Madrid made him the most expensive teenaged transfer ever when they signed him for €46 million in 2017. But like many fast, dribble-loving young wingers, what held his game back was his decision making.

These kinds of players never have any trouble knowing exactly how to run past literally any defender, but the closer they get to the crucial moment when a good run needs to become a killer pass or shot, everything seems to go fuzzy. They often either act too rashly and select the first option that comes to mind just to pick something, or they overthink the situation and fail to make a move until the moment has passed. Oftentimes the effect redounds upon itself: out of fear of freezing, they rush their decisions more and more; worried about blowing the chance by acting too quickly, they try to wait even longer in hopes that a solution becomes obvious. It’s a funny little paradox, and solving it is the only way these players can go from great prospects to great players.

Vinícius, clearly, has solved the paradox for himself. He is now a fountain of good decisions, be they quick, immediate reads of what must be done right now or the result of patience. He knows what any given moment calls for, and he knows that he’ll know the right instant to act when it presents itself. His numbers are nuts and his performances are just as crazy. Real Madrid has waited years for Vinícius to learn when to wait and when to go, and the club is now reaping the considerable rewards.

His rainbow flick against Argentina demonstrates this evolution in miniature. It is the result of speed of movement, dexterity, technical mastery, and agility, but also speed of thought, judgment, knowledge, and confidence. It’s mind and body acting in perfect harmony, each knowing its proper domain and each reinforcing the other. Dribbling isn’t purely physical, just like decision making isn’t solely mental, and it takes both working in concert for an athlete to reach their best. This version of Vinícius is what it looks like when things are in full sync. As the commentator in the clip above says, what beauty that union can create.

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