Real Madrid striker Vinicius Junior (full name: Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira Júnior) was on Spanish radio’s El Larguero soccer show this evening, Wednesday, to discuss the season his side have had, having already won the Spanish league, and look ahead to this Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool.
The Brazilian number 20 spoke glowingly to Spanish journalist Manu Carreño about his teammate Karim Benzema, a clear candidate for the Ballon d’Or trophy for best individual player, and of what it was like to be in the dressing room on legendary nights when Real Madrid turned ties around against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City.
What’s different about things ahead of the Champions League final?
The nerves. It’s my first Champions League final, but all the players on the team who have experience of these games calm me down. We won’t talk football till Saturday, it’s better to be more tranquil. We’re happy after a great season, both the team and for myself; we’ve had so many comebacks and amazing games at the Bernabéu. I can’t wait for Saturday.
Has Ancelotti been key?
Yes, it’s always so important for the players. I think also having had three tough years at Madrid had an impact, because the fans always expect to get to the final. I’ve learnt so much form the coaches I’ve had here, like Zidane last season. I keep getting better the more seasons I have here; this is the first with so many goals and assists. Hopefully I can keep doing it here for a long time.
Is this your first Champions League final?
Yes, it’s the first.
What advice have your teammates given you? Who gives you the most advice?
Carlo [Ancelotti], the coach. He speaks a lot with Militao, Rodrygo and with me. We’re always together, so it’s easier for him to speak to us [laughs]
I’m surprised at how well you all speak of him, both the younger and older players. What does Ancelotti give you?
He’s a great coach who gives his players peace of mind and affection. He talks to everyone just the same, even those who don’t play so much. This season we’ve been very united, and I haven’t seen anything like that since I joined Madrid.
Benzema said this morning about you that you are among the best players in the world because of your maturity, that you can win the final on your own…
I was surprised. I’m really happy with my season and my connection with Benzema, who has been given me advice and has shown me a lot of affection since I joined. I have to be focused to score and provide assists, and this season we’ve scored a lot of goals together. It’s an honour to play with him and be in the same dressing room as him. For a 34-year-old player to be in one of his best seasons, close to winning the Ballon d’Or and another Champions League is exceptional. He is a legend who is one goal away from passing Raúl. I gave him the assist for the goal that got him level – hopefully I can give him the assist for the goal in the final that will give us the win and allow him to overtake Raúl.
He said you’re one of the five best players in the world, do you think he’s gone too far?
I don’t know. Having scored so many goals and provided so many assists, being about to play in the Champions League final and after all my performances… that’s up to everyone else to decide.
So, is Benzema the best in the world?
Yes, and he’s far ahead of the second. After playing with Cristiano Ronaldo, his time has come to fight for the Ballon d’Or.
After so many impressive knockout games [in the Champions League this year], I wanted to ask you what you remember about one of them. What do you remember about the game against PSG?
It was completely mad, a magical night of the kind that only happens at the Bernabéu. If it had been anywhere else, it wouldn’t have happened. We always fight to the end, this shirt has something special that nobody else has and we feel it…although not as much as our rivals.
It happened in all three knockout stages: that mistake by Donnarumma that triggered everything, then with Chelsea and how you came back after their comeback… Which was the most amazing of the three?
The one against City, because of those two Rodrygo goals in a minute. Still, the one we enjoyed the most was the PSG game.
Why was that?
We won the game in 10 minutes and we had 15 minutes left for the fans to enjoy. Against City we struggled far more, it was tougher, but what had to happen happened.
I’ve read that Vinicius is interested in PSG, is that true?
I’m happy here and I’m close to renewing. It’s the best club in the world and I don’t want to leave, I want to stay here as long as possible. I want to be like Marcelo, Benzema or Modric, those players who have been here for so long making history.
So for Al-Khelaïfi – Vinícius is not moving from Madrid.
I’m a Madrid man and I’m happy here.
Are you happy that Mbappé hasn’t joined?
It’s a topic we can’t talk about now. Each player makes his own decisions and he has decided to stay in Paris and that’s it. We have a lot of players here who are progressing, with a good future in Madrid ahead of them. It’s the most beautiful place and the best there is.
Were you surprised by the way everything was done, that the decision wasn’t taken until the last minute?
I don’t know what Mbappé thinks, I know what I think. We’re not there and we can’t talk about things we don’t know.
In a press conference Ancelotti said that even if Mbappé joined you were going to play on the left. That’s a big boost for you, to say, whoever comes in, my man on the left wing man is Vinicius. Do you remember that?
Yes, I remember. It’s where I feel at my calmest and most comfortable. It’s where I make my best moves. The coach gives me the confidence I need.
You stir things up. There’s not much going on in the game and then something happens. The crowd says something to you and sometimes you react a bit. Something always happens when Vinicius is on the ball.
I always try to create something big. This season with so many goals and assists… the confidence goes up. It’s normal. I want to continue like this. Hopefully this is just my first season with these numbers.
There is one thing that has surprised me… being so calm when providing assists. For example the move to get the ball to Benzema after he stole it from Donnarumma. Do you work on that? Do you talk about it with Karim? How do you get that calmness, that confidence?
After so many games in a team where it’s so difficult to be able to play. It’s wonderful to play for Madrid but tough because of the pressure. I think I’m learning and I’m still learning. Not only me, but also Camavinga, Rodrygo, Valverde, Militao, who are the younger players. We are learning by playing, learning with the coach and learning with great players who have been here for a long time and have the confidence that they have.
The dances belong to you Militao. That joy is fundamental for the dressing room. Have you got something prepared for the final?
There’s a bit of a mix with the more experienced players and the younger ones, I think that’s been the union this season. The arrival of Camavinga and Alaba… I think it’s brought us together and that’s why we’re in another final.
There are nerves until the game starts. Are they because you want the game to start as soon as possible?
Yes. Until it starts… when the match starts is the most beautiful part, where I can do what I want and that’s where I feel more confident than ever.
The folk at home will give you some advice, won’t they?
For advice on what happens on the pitch, I ask the people here who have played in four finals. At home they give me peace of mind so that I can be happy.
Have you seen a lot of Liverpool videos or do you prefer not to watch too much of the opposition? Do you know exactly what you’re going to find facing you?
Yes, we watch a lot of Liverpool games. They are a great team with a lot of strength and a lot of intensity. If we match that against them… we will win for sure.
Do you believe all the injuries they have or is that a bit of a strategy? Is so many injuries not a bit strange?
Hopefully they play with all of them. We want an amazing match between two teams with all their players. With 100% concentration. And both fighting for the most important thing which is the Champions League.
If you score… what are you going to do?
I don’t know. I don’t have anything prepared but I think I’ll go a bit crazy. I’m very happy to play in my first final and hopefully I can score.
Liverpool like Russian roulette… it’s going to be a great game.
Yes, a great game like all the games in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They were exciting for us, but they were beautiful games. Now we have the match every player want to play. We have the privilege that almost all the players here have played in many finals and that’s reassuring for us. Hopefully it will be a great game.
Is the Champions League more important than LaLiga? Is it harder?
Yes, for sure. For us the Champions League comes first and then the rest. We always want to win everything. We’ve already won the league and we’re calmer and more confident. Now we are going all out for the Champions League, for the 14th European Cup.
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