Why Barca are about to spend €35m on Brazil's 'new Ronaldo'


Barca are about to spend €35m on Brazil's 'new Ronaldo'

The 18-year-old is close to finalising a move to Camp Nou as the Blaugrana prepare to welcome one of world football's top teenage talents.

Every year, a wealth of top teenage Brazilian talents move to Europe, and they come in a similar mould. Usually immensely skillful, quick, and promising, all of them are swiftly boxed into a comparison with a Brazil legend. 

A lot of them prove to be inaccurate, not least because very few players reach the heights of Neymar, Ronaldinho, or Ronaldo — some of the most common associations.

But the latest one perhaps has a bit more of a likeness to a legend than some of those before him. Indeed, Vitor Roque, fresh off agreeing personal terms with Barcelona, shares a past freakishly similar to that of Ronaldo, and certainly evokes memories of R9.

Like Ronaldo, Vitor burst onto the scene at Cruzeiro as a teenager and netted his first goal as a 16-year-old. The traits are familiar here, too. Roque is very direct, but can still bust out his own array of Cruyff turns, stepovers and sharp cuts — all while having the core strength to shield the ball.

But he cannot actually be Ronaldo, so who is Vitor Roque, and why are Barcelona ecstatic to have beaten some of Europe's best teams to his signature?

Where it all began

Vitor experienced a distinctly middle-class upbringing in Timoteo, a town in the southeast of Brazil. His father, a former defensive midfielder at the amateur level, supported Vitor's talent once it became clear that his son possessed ability well beyond that of the rest of his age group.

And a lot of Vitor's story is rather typical. He was immensely gifted from a young age, and highlighted as a potential talent. He joined an established football academy, Cruzeiro, in his early years, but left for a more-well regarded one, America Mineiro Academy, at the age of 10.

He was first deployed as a defensive midfielder, playing the same position his father found success in, before later being moved to a more attacking role. And he thrived as a striker, scoring goals for fun throughout youth football.

But controversy would soon emerge. Vitor was highly-regarded by the age of 14, but decided that Mineiro wasn't the ideal place to support his development. Instead, he moved back to Cruzeiro, penning a youth contract in March 2019. It was a move that angered his former club, who believed that they were entitled to some of the forward's economic rights. The two parties eventually settled their dispute in court, with Mineiro retaining 35 percent of his value.

And Cruzeiro continued to develop the youngster. He signed a professional contract in May 2021, and scored his first senior goal nine months later. By the start of April 2022, he had scored six goals in 16 first-team appearances.

The big break

Perhaps the biggest development in Vitor's career so far, though, has been a step up to a more competitive level. In April 2022, Athletico Paranaense, Brazilian cup finalists and Copa Libertadores regulars, broke their transfer record to sign him for €4.4 million (£3.7m/$4.5m).

It's a move that has paid dividends for the club. Vitor wasn't immediately thrust into the starting XI, but was immensely effective when on the pitch. He scored seven and assisted three in the 2022 season, including the winner in the Copa Libertadores quarter-final against Argentina's Estudiantes.

During that time period, he also became a regular for Brazil's youth teams, starring alongside Chelsea midfielder Andrey Santos for the Under-20s. And he earned the plaudits of Ronado during the same period, with the now-Cruzeiro owner admitting that "he is going to fly so high".

How it's going

Soon, the links with top European clubs started to emerge. By August, he was being linked with giants from La Liga and the Premier League, and the R9 comparisons were swiftly applied. But it's a burden that the youngster has dealt with effectively. It has certainly helped that he is being coached by former Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari, who has so far avoided heaping praise on his young talent.

"He will grow a lot. He will be one of the players that Brazil will gain great pleasure from, and we will see if he will continue to develop in the position he plays," the Athletico manager said in July 2022.

Since then, he's starred for Athletico. Vitor has tallied seven goal involvements in eight Serie A starts so far this season, and earned a senior Brazil call up in March — playing 26 minutes in a 2-1 loss to Morocco.

Now, he is set to be rewarded with a move across the Atlantic, with Barcelona soon to be his destination as they close in on a €35m (£30m/$38.5m) deal with Athletico.

Barca are about to spend €35m on Brazil's 'new Ronaldo'

Biggest strengths

Vitor combines two crucial means for success in the modern game: physicality and raw skill. The striker is capable of receiving the ball under pressure and bursting past his marker by pushing the ball to his right and simply outrunning most opponents. He is also an excellent finisher with his right foot and gets himself into the correct positions with smart movement around the box. Although he is under six feet tall, he is also surprisingly good in the air and has shown sparing ability to shoot with his left.

The Brazilian is also an underrated passer. Although his future certainly lies as a central striker, Vitor is capable of playing on the wing, and is a good crosser, especially when bursting into the box or floating a ball to the far post.

But it is his pace that stands out at this level. Vitor is rapid, and although he doesn't possess the natural samba instincts of Neymar or Vinicius Jr., has an array of quick moves to get beyond defenders. It's something that will make him deadly immediately.

Room for improvement

It's hard to criticise a player for being a bundle of energy, especially before they've reached their 19th birthday, but Vitor isn't necessarily one to slow the game down, which could be disadvantageous in Europe, especially where his decision-making will need to improve. It's a similar problem to the one Vinicius had; the winger was all action, and often error-prone because of it.

Vitor's ball control isn't necessarily outstanding, either. He thrives with grass to exploit and likes to knock the ball long before running it down. It makes for exciting viewing but isn't conducive to the type of tight spaces that Barcelona will likely be forced to operate in. This is not a player who thrives with the ball glued to his feet.

Still, these are minor gripes, and admittedly common weaknesses that most teenagers have. Under the right coaching, they can easily be fixed.

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