‘Veni, vedi, vici!
I came, I saw, I conquered.
THESE famous words of Roman General Julius Caesar after a crushing victory can now be aptly used to describe the euphoric success of a man named Vinicius Junior who has in the past week challenged an institution, confronted an entire nation and in the process, come out on top in a battle against racism on the elite football playing fields of the Spanish Premier League, La Liga.
Vini Junior arrived in Spain from Flamengo in 2018 aged 18 to join Real Madrid in a transfer worth €46 million which at the time was the second highest transfer fee for a Brazilian player ever.
By the start of this season, there was no doubt that the money spent was a pittance in football parlance.
Vini Junior was now the star of the show, the real galactico in a side full of them as well as La Liga’s mega superstar as they sought to overcome the negative effects of losing both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in quick succession.
Vini Junior meanwhile had come, seen and conquered and Real Madrid and La Liga had their star attraction for the next decade.
It’s most ironic then that La Liga’s very own jewel in the crown has been subjected to the most horrific racist taunts and treatment literally ever since his arrival in Spain.
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While the racism is not limited to him, Vini has been the main target and victim of racial abuse on a football pitch in Spain.
In fact as Vini’s stock has risen, so have the insults, monkey chants and racist effigies.
Instead of being comforted and offered protection by the Spanish Football Federation, he’s been advised to put up with it, accept it and deal with it.
Just a few days ago, ex Liverpool goal keeper Pepe Reina suggested that Vinicius should be more mature in his response, less aggressive in his approach and accept that this is all part and parcel of the game.
Except that this is not what young white superstars such as Pedri and Gavi have had to put up with at Barcelona.
It’s certainly not a part and parcel of Pedri’s game so why should it be any different for Vinicius simply because he’s black.
What transpired though at the Mestalla with a large portion of the crowd directing vile monkey chants at Vini, I hope we never have to witness ever again.
Vini’s much publicized defiant stance against Javier Tebas the La Liga head and the worldwide support he received thereafter ought to inspire us all to stand up to racism and support moves to eradicate it from all levels of the game we love.
The bleak reality however is that racism still exists in every country but Spain’s La Liga has not matched the efforts of football authorities of other countries such as England to quell it.
Javier Tebas’s initial response where he tried to apportion some of the blame on Vini Junior was shockingly out of touch and lacking in empathy and compassion.
He then subsequently backtracked, apologized and affirmed his total backing and support for Vini Junior.
These included statements that he is in favour of points deductions for clubs found guilty of harbouring racists, that he will advocate for stadium and stand closures in such instances, as well as confirming that he will provide full backing for a player and his team to walk off the pitch if any of their players are racially provoked.
The cynic in me suggests that this is merely a publicity trick,a last ditch effort to save La Liga’s tarnished image.
It’s obviously apparent that Tebas did not foresee the global outburst against La Liga and himself as well as not fully appreciating the tremendous outpouring of international support for Vini.
Tebas erred massively in choosing to treat the league’s most marketable commodity in a dismissive, insulting and disrespectful manner.
The sad scary truth is that I’m convinced that his initial response was one that he genuinely believed adequate or suitable under the circumstances and clearly points to a mindset that’s outdated and flawed.
His response also makes a mockery of initiatives like ‘La Liga Loca, ’the informative marketing drive into Africa about La Liga’s African players compiled superbly by the outstanding television personality Julia Stuart.
The seismic shift this week therefore by the Federation in it’s backing of Vini Junior is based on th the knowledge that La Liga is now lagging light years behind the EPL in every aspect and it needs as much support and as many friends as it can muster.
It cannot afford the loss of its last remaining superstars nor can it afford to portray itself in such a distasteful non-inclusive way to potential black La Liga superstars such as Mbappe and Bellingham.
Real Madrid themselves also finally appeared to have awakened to this scary reality and sought this week to distance themselves from Tebas and the Federation’s shameful initial remarks, by finally giving Vini full unwavering support, even if it also arrived much too late!
Having said that,I sincerely applaud lone ranger Carlo Ancelotti who fully backed Vini Junior and as usual stands out in the world of football for his bravery and integrity.
The reality however is that the changes we are witnessing in Spain are only because of Vini Junior.
This is a man who dared to take on a national football federation and ultimately an entire country using his platform as a Real Madrid galactico to draw attention to his plight and that of other black footballers throughout the world facing regular racist abuse.
This is a man who is no longer just a footballer because the circumstances that befell him and his courageous response ensured that he would become much more than just a great footballer.
While other black and white players in La Liga and elsewhere turned a blind eye,shut their mouths, accepted their fat cheques and got on with it, Vini Junior decided that he couldn’t accept the status quo any longer.
He decided that if no one else was willing to fight the prejudice, then he was going to be the one that stood up to combat racism.
Vini Junior made up his mind that he was prepared to take the fight wherever and whenever to whatever battlefield to preserve his dignity and the dignity and wellbeing of others.
When he was growing up in the slums of Rio, Vini Junior harboured an ambition to become an elite professional footballer.
He dreamt of a life away from the hardships and suffering he had grown up in.
He dreamt of a life where he could utilize his undoubted skills to take him to the top of the Pyramid.
The life hardened skills he inherited and accumulated as a survivor of his upbringing coached him, toughened him and moulded him into not just a Real Madrid galactico, but a giant galactico of the world.
Vini Junior is a young man who who arrived in Madrid to forge a career as a fantastic footballer which he achieved relatively quickly and easily enough.
The same man has doubled up as a new age political and social icon and warrior of the world fighting for human rights and dignity.
He is the ultimate consummate professional footballer and role model but simultaneously displays character traits of a youthful Nelson Mandela as he successfully strives to bring some common sense to the football world!
Take a bow Vini! Veni, vidi, vici. Vini you came, you saw and you have conquered!
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