The night Vinicius Jr decided enough is enough – he now doubts his Real Madrid future (2023)

“The championship that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, today belongs to racists.”

These words were posted by Vinicius Junior on social media after another shocking and deeply saddening episode in the story of Spanish football’s racism problem on Sunday night.


The impact of what happened at Valencia, and Vinicius Jr’s long-held frustration over how authorities have approached tackling the subject, now leaves Real Madrid’s star player with doubts over his future at the club because he does not feel supported. He feels it is a battle he has been left to take on alone.

The 22-year-old Brazil forward ended his social media message on Sunday by writing: “I am strong and I will go all the way against the racists. Even if it’s far from here.”

The Athletic contacted Vinicius Jr’s staff, asking if this meant he was contemplating an exit from La Liga and Madrid.

Sources from his entourage, who asked not to be named in order to protect their position, replied: “Yes. When you have to fight on your own…”

Another such source was even more categorical: “Until today, there was no chance. From today, yes.”

If Vinicius Jr were to decide he wants to leave Madrid due to the regular racist abuse he suffers and the lack of support he receives, Spanish football will lose its brightest talent and it alone will be 100 per cent responsible.

It would be a huge blow for the Bernabeu club. It would be a huge disappointment for La Liga. It would be a shame for Spanish society. But nobody should blame the player given how he has been left to suffer almost alone for two years now, adding in an Instagram post on Monday that what he is experiencing “is not football, it’s inhuman”.

Because as he himself said, Sunday night “wasn’t the first time, nor the second, nor the third”.

The racist abuse targeting Vinicius Jr started well before kick-off at Valencia’s Estadio de Mestalla. As Real Madrid’s players left their team bus after arriving at the gates, a large crowd of Valencia fans gathered on the opposite side of the street chanting: “Vinicius, you’re a monkey”.


This kind of abuse — and worse — continued during the match. In the 72nd minute, Vinicius Jr confronted fans in a stand behind one of the goals, pointing to them and accusing them of racially abusing him.

“You, you, you’re the one who called me a monkey,” he appeared to be saying, as players from both sides gathered on the scene. He beckoned the referee to come over. He made a gesture as if to say they’d been calling him a monkey or making monkey noises towards him.

GO DEEPERSpanish football has a racism problem. This is how Vinicius Jr became the focus of abuse

Play was stopped for around six minutes. Police officers could be seen among the crowd and two fans were removed from their places. Vinicius Jr went over to speak with Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti on the sidelines. Visibly distressed, he returned to the field of play, having also spoken further with the referee.

The night Vinicius Jr decided enough is enough– he now doubts his Real Madrid future (2)

Vinicius Jr pictured with Sunday’s referee, Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea (Photo: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

After the match, Madrid’s goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, said he’d heard racist chanting as early as the 20th minute and that he would have supported his team-mate in refusing to continue if he’d decided to do so.

Instead, Vinicius Jr left having been shown a red card after pushing and shoving between multiple players on both sides in injury time. The VAR noticed him raising his hand towards Hugo Duro’s face but missed the Valencia forward having had an arm around his neck just before.

The Brazilian arguably deserved to be shown the red card, but the image of him being the only individual punished, before Valencia’s players then celebrated their victory, was again damaging for the image of Spanish football. As he walked off the pitch, more monkey chants could be heard from the home fans.

After Madrid’s 1-0 loss, Ancelotti said: “I don’t want to speak about football today, but about what happened. That is more important than a defeat.

“What happened today cannot happen. I asked him (Vinicius Jr) but he wanted to continue. I told him I did not think it was fair that he had to play this game: ‘You are not the guilty party, you are the victim’. He continued to play. On top of that, they show him a red card which makes no sense, as it was not an aggression.


“We have a problem, he does not have a problem. For me, Vinicius is the greatest player in the world, the strongest. La Liga has a problem. With this racism, for me, they have to stop the game. There is no other way.

“Vini is very sad, angry, but more sad. It cannot happen.”

La Liga said it had “requested all available images in order to investigate what took place” and that it would “take the appropriate legal action if any hate crime is identified”. Since October 2021, it has done so already nine times in cases involving Vinicius Jr at La Liga matches. Of these, only two cases have led to punishments such as fines or stadium bans for individual fans. Four cases remain open.

One of the three cases to have been closed without charges being brought relates to an away match against Atletico Madrid in September last year when fans were recorded chanting: “Vinicius, you are a monkey”. Prosecutors said that because the chanting had lasted “just a few seconds” and took place within the context of “a football game with maximum rivalry”, it was therefore “not a crime against the dignity of the person affected”.

A crazy few minutes at Mestalla 👀

First, Cömert used a second ball on the pitch to knock the ball out of Vini Jr's path ⚽

Then as the referee tried to sort out the aftermath, Vini Jr became visibly annoyed at something said by fans behind the goal 😳

— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) May 21, 2023

Off the pitch, Vinicius Jr was compared to a monkey on mainstream Spanish TV show El Chiringuito de Jugones, whose host later apologised. In January, an effigy of the player was hung from a motorway bridge close to Real Madrid’s training ground before a match with city rivals Atletico.

In the Spanish media, he is often portrayed in a negative light; as tempestuous, unruly or disrespectful. Often, more airtime is given to this than the racist abuse he receives. This was a feature of some of Sunday night’s post-match reaction, too.

Many commentators and major media outlets qualified their condemnation of racist abuse with reference to gestures Vinicius Jr made towards the crowd. At several points he held up two fingers, symbolising Spain’s second division — Valencia are still in danger of relegation despite Sunday’s win.


Even Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos said on Movistar TV that Vinicius Jr was “disrespected” at stadiums all around Spain, but also that his team-mate should apologise for his ‘down to Segunda’ gesture.

This echoed a stance held by many in and around the Bernabeu as Vinicius Jr has so regularly suffered horrible abuse over the past two years. Everyone says racism is bad and should not happen, but many also argue that he has to learn to not allow rival players and fans to get to him and affect his performances.

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Valencia’s response to what happened in their stadium on Sunday was also instructive. The only representative to apologise to Vinicius Jr was Netherlands attacker Justin Kluivert during his Spanish TV interview.

Other Valencia figures appeared much more worried about defending their own fans rather than addressing what had happened. Club captain Jose Gaya said those who had racially abused Vinicius Jr should be banned from stadiums for life, but he also “condemned” Vinicius Jr’s two-fingered gesture, drawing a false equivalence between the two behaviours.

Very few at Valencia seemed capable of putting themselves in the shoes of a young black man who had again been racially abused.

There was a similar defensiveness to La Liga’s response on Sunday night. La Liga said it would act again as they had repeatedly in similar instances of abuse over the past two years, actively helping to identify and then punish those individuals who can be seen on camera committing the abuse.

They have done this and there is frustration among at least some at La Liga that other authorities with more power to take significant steps like closing stadiums — the Spanish Football Association, the Spanish legal system, the Spanish government — are not doing as much as they are.

But this was not helped by La Liga president Javier Tebas getting involved in a social media exchange with Vinicius Jr, noting that he had not turned up to meetings with La Liga to deal with the issue.


In his tweet, Tebas also suggested that Vinicius Jr did not understand what was happening, had not informed himself sufficiently and was allowing himself to be manipulated. Again the blame was back onto the 22-year-old for somehow being responsible himself.

The night Vinicius Jr decided enough is enough– he now doubts his Real Madrid future (4)

Ancelotti and Vinicius Jr during the stoppage in Sunday’s match (Photo: Jose Miguel Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Could Vinicius Jr actually leave Madrid? He renewed his contract with the club last summer, extending a deal that was due to expire in 2024 until 2027, raising his release clause from €350million (£305m; $380m) to €1billion in the process. His salary was also increased, from €3.2m a year plus bonuses to around €12m a year.

On Monday, a Madrid source described the club’s view on the situation to The Athletic. “Vinicius has been working indoors and has been doing physical recovery work,” the source said. “His mental recovery is another matter. It has been the most intense day since he arrived at Madrid. It has been the morning in which he has received the most messages and news of his life.

“Vinicius is very worried about the drift that this situation has acquired throughout the season. He received a visit from the club president and met privately with him to show his support and to explain the steps the club is taking in his defence.

El presidente del Real Madrid se ha reunido con @ViniJr para mostrarle su apoyo y su cariño, para informarle de todos los pasos que se están realizando en su defensa y para confirmarle que el club llegará hasta las últimas consecuencias ante una situación tan repugnante de odio.

— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) May 22, 2023

“In the dressing room, he has received even more support than yesterday from his team-mates. The truth is that the man is disoriented and overwhelmed by all this. And of course, he is quite sad.

“Now, to say he is already thinking about leaving for other leagues is stupid.”

Madrid also published photos of this meeting between president Florentino Perez and Vinicius Jr. When contacted by The Athletic, sources close to the player, who asked not to be named in order to protect their position, said it did not change the way the player feels.

They said they would wait with interest to see what action Madrid take as they want real actions beyond good intentions. On Monday morning, the club announced it would file a complaint with Spanish prosecutors over the racist abuse. A statement released in the afternoon added further support to Vinicius Jr, pointing the finger at the Spanish FA and Spain’s referees over “inaction”, before adding: “The victim who suffers should never be held responsible for the crime”.

Fierce support for Vinicius Jr came from Ronaldo Nazario, his fellow Brazilian, who is president of La Liga club Valladolid. There was also very strong backing from his home country, including Brazilian president Lula da Silva and Brazil FA president Ednaldo Rodrigues, who were among those to angrily demand more protection for Vinicius Jr and more punishments for those who racially abuse him.

Most of the reactions within Spanish football to Vinicius Jr and Ancelotti’s words were to attempt to correct them. Some commentators claimed they do not know Spain well, do not speak the language perfectly, that they are foreigners mistaken in their understanding of what is happening.

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The truth is the game here has long been marked by the ignorant attitude of fans who believe calling a black player a monkey is no different to any other abuse they might direct at the opposition, and Ancelotti and Vinicius Jr understand this perfectly.

On Monday morning, Spain’s equality minister Irene Montero called for a new ‘anti-racism’ law. Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales said it was time to recognise that Spanish football does have a racism problem.

But everything that has been said in response to the events of Sunday night feels very late — and draws attention to how little has previously been done to deal with the issue, which has been around Spanish football for decades.

The question now is how much longer Vinicius Jr is prepared to stay and suffer this situation.

Additional contributor: Guillermo Rai.

(Top image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Mateo Villalba/Aitor Alcalde/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images. Visual design by Samuel Richardson)

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