Vinicius (right) with Valverde. / AFP

Vinícius Júnior

He is maturing into a complete footballer who may compete with Messi for the world player of the year title in future years

ROB PALMERCOMMENTATOR, SKY SPORTS

Whilst the arguments rage on about whether Lionel Messi should have pipped Robert Lewandowski for the Ballon d'Or, Vinícius Júnior is starting to emerge as the best young player on Planet Football.

"Vini" was in danger of becoming the latest South American import to be labelled as "the next big thing" who would never live up to the hype.

We saw it with Robinho, Javier Saviola and remember Denílson who became the world's costliest player when he joined Real Betis back in 1998.

The talented Brazilian looked like he was going to follow the same path as he struggled to justify his €45 million transfer fee from Flamengo as a teenager. He hit a low when cameras captured Karim Benzema telling team mates not to give the ball to Vinícius as it would be a waste of a pass.

Spin forward just over a year and the pair are the most feared force in La Liga and beyond.

It has been a remarkable turnaround for a player who wasn't in the starting line-up at the start of the season. Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale were ahead of him in Carlo Ancelotti's developing Real Madrid mindscape. The response of Vinícius was to weigh in with three goals in the opening two games as an explosive substitute.

Now he's an explosive starter as Sevilla will attest to. His dynamite 86th minute winner took his club to the top of the table and inspired his normally conservative coach to purr about his qualities. "It's another step forward to being one of the best in the world" was the way he summed up the moment.

There had been fleeting glimpses. He scored in the 2020 Clásico and weighed in with a brace against Liverpool in last season's Champions League quarter finals. There were far more misses than hits though.

Now he's found consistency. He's started nineteen games in a row: scoring eleven goals and assisting in seven others. Bale and Hazard don't stand a chance. He is the pin up boy for Real Madrid's future and only Benzema has scored more in Spanish football.

The cool paternal style of Ancelotti has aided the maturity of a player who arrived as a raw seventeen-year-old from Flamengo who had learned his skills on a futsal court. The boy from the Brazilian barrios was lost in the Spanish capital. He's grown up, sharpened his finishing skills, and is now the first player Benzema would recommend they pass the ball to.

Strangely he hasn't yet replicated his club form for his country. I was surprised to discover that he hasn't scored in his nine appearances for Brazil and isn't yet an automatic selection.

I don't think it will be long before he's a fixture alongside Neymar and Jesus.

So, make a note, the Junior in his name was very apt until this season and now he's maturing into a complete player who may compete with Messi for the world player of the year title in future years and appears to be marketed as just "Vini"

As for the Ballon d'Or. We don't get a say on the sports desk at SUR. I may have cast my vote for Lewandowski given his exceptional last two seasons, but I don't think that it can be argued that Messi isn't still the best footballer currently plying his trade.