Dancing to the tune of LaLiga

Vinicius Junior's on-pitch presence will either make you love him or hate him - and he's here to stay

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

Step forward or, to be more exact, dance forward, Vinícius Júnior.

He divides opinion; he divides defences; he's a crowd pleaser; he's the king of the wind-up. The brilliant Brazilian is one man's glorious entertainer, another man's showboating wind-up merchant. One set of fans will love him, the others will select him for special treatment.

This is a young man who has now danced up to world-class level and will be a superstar for the next generation.

It's crazy to say that a player who triggered a 46m euro deal to join Real Madrid after just one professional game is finally justifying the investment at the age of 22.

He's making Real Madrid fans forget all about missing out on Kylian Mbappé in the summer and has surged ahead of Neymar as Brazil's best player. He's the future of Brazilian football; he is Real Madrid's stand-out player this season but he's taken his time in realising his potential.

Just 13 months ago, it looked like money squandered on a fancy Dan with a bag of tricks who lacked a grand finale to his act. Carlo Ancelotti saw the ability that persuaded the club to invest in a raw 16-year-old and finally found a way to harness that talent, and point him in the direction of the goal. He went from bit-part player to world class talent.

His Champions League final match-winner was his 22nd goal of the season, on top of 20 assists. It's the same again this season. He's led the line with five goals and two assists in his opening seven games.

There's a new-found confidence which borders on arrogance. Pablo Maffeo tried a kickboxing move when Vinicius visited Mallorca in the spring. Last weekend, it was round two: Maffeo applied every dark art; he barged, tripped, cajoled and he roughed him up.

The Brazilian's reaction was to continue teasing him with ball tricks and play to the crowd like a WWE wrestler. Flailing his arms, cupping his ears and dancing like Ronaldinho when he ultimately scored the goal.

He was very close to crossing the line and my co-commentator on ESPN, Stewart Robson, issued a warning that he didn't want to end up like Neymar. This provoked a strong reaction from the Vini Junior fan club. The reaction from the seasoned Mallorca manager Javier Aguirre was to tell his players to kick him some more.

I'd argue that he's a different proposition to Neymar. He doesn't exaggerate the high volume of fouls he endures in every game, he's now affecting games with his talents, and there is a deadly end product.

It was an understatement from his manager: "Vinicius is a special player and the way he plays can sometimes annoy the rival."

Annoy! He sends them into an uncontrollable rage, but he's lucky that he has the cool-headed Ancelotti to give him paternal guidance: "I understand that if the rival is losing, he can be a little more annoying. It's normal. But these are things that happen in football. He, with his experience, will learn little by little."

Sit back and enjoy his talents - or you can stand up and scream obscenities at Vinicius. You just can't ignore him.