No player in Europe has been fouled more than Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior this season.
The Brazilian has been kicked from pillar to post. He’s been fouled 79 times. That’s 16 more than any other player in Europe’s major leagues and 25 more than any other player in La Liga.
“The question I ask is this: What does Vinicius have to defend himself against? What do his team-mates have to defend themselves against?” coach Carlo Ancelotti responded following Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Real Mallorca on Sunday.
“Is Vinicius the problem? It seems like the problem is Vinicius, but the problem is what happens around him. Period.
“It is a problem of Spanish football. I am a part of Spanish football and I think it’s a problem that we have to solve. Because it seems that Vinicius is the culprit, but he is being the victim of something that I don’t understand.”
The stats underline the issue. Watch him play and you’ll see what Ancelotti is talking about: Vinicius is being targeted. He was fouled 10 times alone in the defeat at Son Moix, yet he was booked before any of Mallorca’s players.
In one sense, that’s testament to his quality.
Take a look at Gabriel Paulista’s desperate lunge in the win against Valencia last week. It was a picture of frustration. After 71 minutes of being given the runaround by his compatriot, he snapped.
Sick of being made to look like a fool, he wasn’t going to allow Vinicius to get past him one more time – so he booted him up in the air, receiving the most obvious red card you’ll see all season.
𝗦𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗥𝗘𝗗 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗚𝗮𝗯𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗹 𝗣𝗮𝘂𝗹𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗮 🟥
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) February 2, 2023
It’s often the great players that are subject to that kind of a response. Lionel Messi has been on the receiving end of his fair share of challenges just like Gabriel’s.
Jack Grealish was routinely the most-fouled player in England before his £100million move to Manchester City.
During Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup, widely regarded as the zenith of individual footballing genius, he was fouled no less than 53 times. No player in World Cup history has suffered more fouls.
El Diego knows all too well the pain of being targeted in Spain. He was the same age Vinicius is now when he was on the receiving end of a potentially career-ending challenge from Andoni Goikoetxea, ‘the Butcher of Bilbao’.
Fortunately, Maradona recovered to grace us with one of the most spectacular careers in football history. One mis-timed challenge too many and Vinicius may not be so lucky.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT
Vinícius Júnior was fouled 10 times today — that's the most fouls suffered by one player in a single match in the top 5 European leagues this season.
— Sofascore (@SofascoreINT) February 5, 2023
Vinicius has all the makings of a football great. Last season he exploded into life, realising all that raw potential to notch 16 assists and 21 goals – including the winner in the Champions League final – as one of Madrid’s standout players as they conquered Spain and Europe.
“Vinicius is an incredible person, with great values,” team-mate Federico Valverde recently said.
“He is different than most on the field, he enjoys soccer in his own way, in a happy way. I don’t think the rival fans are thinking about the person, they don’t realise that he could be the son of anyone who is in the stands. People need to be responsible for what they do, they shouldn’t take it out on a 22-year-old. You need to have respect.”
Valverde spoke the truth. Despite the treatment he gets, and lack of protection, Vinicius does his utmost to play with a smile on his face.
Not only has the winger been brutalised on the pitch, but he’s had to deal with all manner of unacceptable abuse off it too. He’s been racially abused on several occasions and had a disgraceful effigy hung off a bridge by Atletico Madrid fans.
“Dribble, dance & be you! Happy just the way you are. Go for it my boy, next goal we dance,” Brazil team-mate Neymar posted on Instagram back in September, in response to a raft of criticism and abuse that Vinicius received in Spain for the crime of dancing when he celebrates.
We couldn’t agree more with Neymar. We love the Madrid winger. He’s a wonderful footballer. We’d much rather see racism kicked out of football than Vinicius Junior.