It was over 12 months ago that the world of football expressed astonishment at the news of Real Madrid’s latest signing.
It was not the name, reputation or quality that drew surprise, with Vinicius Junior said to be among the brightest young talents in Brazilian football. But it was the fee and context of the deal which opened eyes.
Just two weeks earlier, the talented forward made his first-team debut with Flamengo – his first ever appearance as a professional.
Los Blancos announced they would trigger his €45 million release clause – the second highest fee for a Brazilian player, behind Neymar, and the highest amount of money paid for a player under the age of 19.
This fits into the recruitment policy in place at Madrid under the presidency of Florentino Perez, with the last signing to walk into the first-team being Toni Kroos four years ago.
Signings have been made with the future in mind, as was demonstrated last summer with the arrivals of youngster Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos, who played bit-part roles this campaign.
The deal for Vinicius, who has represented his nation at U5, U17 and U20 level, was much more notable due to the money involved and his lack of experience.
Yet this deal was concluded before massive market moves for his countrymen Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho in a transfer market which is becoming increasingly bloated.
The policy at Los Blancos has notably shifted into finding value in youngsters and whilst each signing is a gamble due to a lack of experience at the top-level, it also represents a calculated move as the fees involved are lower and the players can continue their development in the environment of their own club.
Vinicius will join Madrid this summer as he has now turned 18 and is expected to be incorporated into the club’s Castilla side.
Earlier this month, Madrid confirmed the arrival of another 17-year-old Brazilian for a €45 million fee: Rodrygo Goes from Santos. The U20 forward will wait a further 12 months before making his move to Europe official, but it is a deal which replicates that of his compatriot.
A reported transfer target of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Rodrygo has caught the eye since making his debut in November and has since netted nine goals in 31 appearances for the Brazilian club including in the Copa Libertadores.
Just as with Vinicius, he will have a further year of first-team football under his belt before becoming a Madrid player.
Reports in Marca this week suggest the club have also struck a deal to sign Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin from Zorya Luhansk. The 19-year-old has kept 20 clean sheets for Zorya across the past two seasons, spanning 51 matches and again fits the profile of long-term planning.
An imbalanced squad?
Seven of Madrid’s first-team squad are now the wrong side of 30, including Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric. This alone does not suggest a notably ageing squad, but it does hint that within the next five seasons, a mass changing of the guard will need to take place.
Deals for these three teenagers will further supplement a squad with Hernandez and Ceballos looking to make their mark alongside other promising youngster Marcos Llorente, Jesus Vallejo and Achraf Hakimi.
There is scope to argue, however, that Madrid have only bought Rodrygo and Vincius as a means of one-upping Barcelona, who initially captured Neymar.
Madrid are not spending transfer fees at the same rate as rivals in Europe’s elite bracket of clubs, but the continuity of success is in no immediate danger of slowing.