Thierry Henry lauds Real Madrid Vinícius racism response

Thierry Henry has expressed admiration for Vinícius Júnior and his ability to achieve greatness and continue improving in the face of racism and other adversity.

Vinícius, 23, has played a big part in Real Madrid winning LaLiga and reaching Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley despite the Brazil international having repeatedly been the victim of racist abuse since he arrived in Spain five years ago.

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“Right now, the guy that I saw before and what he’s become, well done, well done, because it’s not easy,” former France and Arsenal striker Henry told ESPN Brasil when asked about Vinícius. “The racism part, getting kicked, getting booed, getting red carded when you are mistreated and still overcoming it and performing well, as we say in French; ‘chapeau bas’ [hats off].”

Earlier this year, Vinícius broke down in tears when he spoke of the racist abuse he has experienced.

Asked if he was shocked by the ongoing racist episodes directed at Vinícius, Henry said: “No, unfortunately because I’ve heard it before and still do. Unfortunately, I will continue to listen until people act on this.

“So you have to work on yourself, like he [Vinícius] did, and try to see how you can get out of this situation. Mentally too, not just in performance on the field, but mentally. At one point, it looked like the guy was being booed for being mistreated.”

Henry has applauded Vinícius for never losing his joy and dancing for his goal celebrations despite continuing to be a target of rival fans.

“Yes, dance, dance however you want,” Henry said. “Dance, have fun, love and make us dream. That’s what it’s all about when I see a player like that. And now he’s playing, behaving and performing. You have to give him a lot of credit.”

Henry said he believes Vinícius has shown considerable resilience since he joined Madrid in July 2018 from Flamengo at 18 years old.

“Arriving in Madrid, we all remember the images of… they [some Real Madrid teammates] didn’t want to give him the ball,” Henry said. “You arrive in Madrid, join a national team and Neymar is the boss. You have to deal with all of this. From that to being the man of the moment. He is the guy. He’s the guy in Madrid. He’s the guy who’s making a difference. For me, this is his team.

“From scoring the winning goal against Liverpool in [in the 2022 Champions League final] Paris to now, it hasn’t been an easy journey for him, and I know it’s not an easy journey for anyone. And while we’re on the subject, I’m just stating the facts he had to deal with. And all the time people and teams do tactics to make sure he doesn’t perform.”

Vinícius has often complained about the lack of protection he receives from referees after being one of the most fouled players in LaLiga.

However, it hasn’t prevented him from contributing to his team’s success, scoring 23 goals and setting up 11 more in 38 appearances across all competitions for Los Blancos this season.

Henry believes Vinícius has become an all-round player as was seen in his recent performances against Manchester City and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

“All the time people and teams use tactics to make sure he doesn’t perform,” Henry said. “The right-back stays in defense, they don’t go up just to mark him. You know, they try to see how they can stop him.

“He had to play as No. 9 against Bayern [in the semifinal first leg]. Yes, the second goal was a penalty, but the first, the run… This shows that he can play any way, anywhere, in different styles. Defending against Man City [in the quarterfinals] the entire game and playing on the counterattack.

“Play in a high block, medium block, press, hold the ball, score goals, give assists. The other day, against Bayern Munich [in the semifinal return leg], he was the only one who wanted the ball in the second half and tried to create things.”

Vinícius, who is one of the front-runners to succeed Lionel Messi as the Ballon d’Or winner, is expected to lead Madrid’s attack against Borussia Dortmund in Saturday’s final.