Real Madrid interim coach Santiago Solari has hailed the natural talent of 18-year-old starlet Vinicius Junior, while declining to say whether he would bow to pressure to start the Brazilian in Wednesday’s Champions League Group G game at Viktoria Plzen.
Vinicius, a €45 million signing from Flamengo, has been one of the few bright spots in Madrid’s season so far, and helped break the deadlock in last weekend’s 2-0 La Liga win over Valladolid when entering as a late substitute, leading to further local media calls to give the teenager a starting spot immediately.
At the pre-game news conference at the Struncovy Sady Stadion, the Los Blancos coach called for caution about putting too much pressure on the kid’s shoulders, while saying nobody could hold a player back when his performances showed he was ready for the top level.
“[Vinicius] is still very young,” Solari said. “He has great potential for the age he has, his football transmits joy. He already has things that it are impossible to learn. When it is inevitable for a player to play, as he is breaking through everything, then he plays, nobody can stop that. But there is a natural, gradual process.”
Madrid beat Plzen 2-1 in last month’s reverse fixture, the only victory in Julen Lopetegui’s last seven games as coach, having lost 1-0 at CSKA Moscow earlier in the group. Solari has won both his games in temporary charge of the senior side since stepping up from his role as coach of Madrid’s Castilla youth side, and said he hoped to see more improvement from his team in Wednesday’s UCL outing.
“In football, the solutions and problems are never just one thing, whether it is going well or not,” he said. “We have played two difficult games, which we had to play well to win, seriously, with order. We have to do the same tomorrow, in another competition. We can always improve, as every team can, even teams which are playing very well.”
The Bernabeu hierarchy could still appoint a new permanent replacement for Lopetegui in the coming days, with a source telling ESPN FC that ex-Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim was among those being considered.
“I am just looking to tomorrow’s game,” Solari said when asked if he would like the club to confirm him permanently in the job. “I am committed to this role, whether for two days, or a week, just the same. This competition is always very nice, with the history of this club. I enjoyed it a lot as a player, and I’m happy to be here today in this role.”
Madrid’s only two fit senior defenders — captain Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez — should start in the middle of the back four, with youngsters Alvaro Odriozola and Sergio Reguilon on either side.
“It is never easy when a club changes coach,” Nacho said at the pregame news conference. “Solari comes from within this house, and has started well. The players are happy with him but it is not our decision to make. We are picking up confidence bit by bit.
“It is not easy at Madrid when you go a few games without winning. But now we have won two on the bounce, with two clean sheets, and are feeling better. We can have more consistency and stability now.”