The modern soccer transfer market has seen its share of ridiculous sales in the last few years–$38 million dollars for Moussa Sissoko, for example–but Real Madrid might have just jumped the shark. The club confirmed on Tuesday that they had signed Vinicius Junior, a 16-year-old Brazilian attacker from Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo, for a whopping $50 million fee, breaking the previous teenage transfer record (held by Manchester United for their $46 million purchase of French 19-year-old Anthony Martial).
To be fair, this complicated arrangement has Vinicius officially moving to the Spanish club next summer, when he will be 17. He will then spend a year on loan at Flamengo, so La Liga fans can expect to see him in 2019, when he’s 18 going on 19 and possibly ready for the rigors of the capital. To be less fair, though, Vinicius has played less than a full match’s worth of minutes with Flamengo’s first division side; Real has purchased him for his exploits in the youth teams and with Brazil’s U-17 side, where he won the U-17 South American Championships as the top player.
Why would the merengues splurge this much money on a relatively unproven child? As most things in La Liga do, it all comes down to El Clasico and the rivalry with FC Barcelona. Back in 2013, Barcelona beat out Real Madrid in the hunt for Neymar, the most-recent Brazilian teenager to be dubbed “future best player in the world.” Despite the eventual legal sketchiness surrounding Barca’s purchase, the main takeaway for Real was that they must act faster and more decisively to win the rights of players of that skill level; hence, the massive purchase of Vinicius. It’s not a coincidence that the other club rumored to land the Brazilian wunderkind was none other than Barcelona.
Regardless of the sum and context of the bid, it is quite possible that Vinicius Junior lives up to the hype and dollar amount attached to his move. Watching highlights of him is like watching a stronger Neymar; his dribbling isn’t as tight as the former Santos star, but he’s got a powerful drive to his moves that should serve him well in Europe. He’s also young enough to learn to cover deficiencies and bulk up more, turning him into an all-around kind of winger. Finally, by keeping him in Brazil for the next two years, it’s certainly possible that he develops into an even better player, making this fee as much of a steal as a $50 million dollar fee could ever be.
That speaks to the insanity of the transfer market more than anything. With players like Paul Pogba breaking the $100 million mark last summer and 19-year-old one season wonder Kylian Mbappé rumored to break it this upcoming window, $50 for a 16-year-old Brazilian talent seems almost reasonable. It’s not, because he could bust out before ever donning the all-whites of Real Madrid, but if he turns out to be as good as, say, Brazilian legend Emundo thinks (he said Vinicius could be worth “over $200 million” if he pans out), then the Spanish giants will have their next superstar ready to go.