Real Madrid went to the Metropolitano and danced, delivering their response to this derby victory over Atletico Madrid and the racism that overshadowed it. Goals from Rodrygo and Fede Valverde took Carlo Ancelotti’s team to the top of the table and maintained their 100% record this season but this was a night – a week, in fact – that will be recalled more for what happened off the pitch, with Atlético fans chanting abuse at Vinícius Júnior.
Footage filmed outside showed significant numbers of supporters chanting “Vinícius is a monkey” as they made their way into the stadium. What sounded like monkey chants could also be heard among the whistles the first time the Brazilian touched the ball. That was not repeated afterwards, and when Vinicius lost the ball attempting a late rainbow flick, they chanted “stupid, stupid.” When Madrid’s players celebrated the opening goal in a 2-1 win against their rivals, there were some objects thrown.
The abuse outside followed a video from Vinícius in which he responded to criticism of his supposedly provocative behaviour by denouncing the racism to which he feels he is subjected and which he suggested underlies the attacks.
What had initially been an almost entirely fabricated debate about his style and his habit of celebrating goals by dancing had built up all week and eventually, and with depressing inevitability, ended in this episode of racism at the stadium.
Last Sunday there had been a confrontation between Vinícius and some Mallorca players who considered him to be showboating. When he scored he had danced, as he often does. The Mallorca manger Javier Aguirre had spoken to him during the game but afterwards said that it was unimportant and congratulated Madrid on the victory.
Despite that attempt to downplay it, a debate was stirred up about him which seemed to overtake the entire buildup to this game, becoming unavoidable in the media. Football agent Pedro Bravo, a guest on a Spanish TV show Chiringuito, where hammed-up arguments are a staple, referred to Vinícius “monkeying around”, and invited him to leave the dancing to the “Sambadrome”. He subsequently apologised, saying that he used the phrase “figuratively”.
As the clip went viral, so the support for Vinícius rolled in: from Neymar, Dani Alves, and even Pelé. Atlético captain Koke was subsequently asked about the likely reaction should the Brazilian score and celebrate the goal by dancing. Koke responded by saying there would be a “lio for sure” [trouble, or a mess].
Vinícius gave a statement on the eve of the match. “They say that happiness annoys people,” he said. “Well, the happiness of a victorious black Brazilian in Europe, much more so. Weeks ago now, they started to criminalise me for dancing.” Dance, he said, is not just his, but belongs to many players, including Atlético’s Antoine Griezmann, to funk and samba artists, to reggaeton and black Americans, and “celebrate the cultural diversity of the world – and he wasn’t going to stop. Accept it, respect me, I’m not going to stop,” he said.
Real Madrid released a statement in defence of their player and against racism. In his pre-match press conference, more than half of the questions directed at Carlo Ancelotti were about Vinícius. “A lot has been said about provocation; racism is another subject which is much more important,” he said.
“We haven’t talked about racism in the dressing room because the player has responded well in his statement and that’s it.” Neymar tweeted: “Dance, Vini” and the next day asked: “Am I the only one who woke up wanting Vinícius to score tomorrow?”
In the end, he didn’t, but he did dance. Atlético flew out of the blocks but Real Madrid rode that initial storm. Felipe had one header on to the roof of the net, Yannick Carrasco hit the side of it, and João Felix had a shot blocked. Griezmann, surprisingly included as a starter despite Atlético’s attempts to avoid triggering an obligatory purchase clause from Barcelona by not playing him, saw a shot saved by Thibaut Courtois.
But then Rodrygo scored a wonderful opening goal, turning a clever volley into the net. He celebrated by dancing at the south end of the ground, joined by teammates. They hadn’t finished yet: a sharp one-two between Luka Modric and Vinícius sent the Brazilian racing away. He ran into the area and hit the post, the ball running loose for Valverde, steaming in, to finish. Madrid’s players danced once more. There was a long way to go but it felt as good as over until a late Mario Hermoso goal set up an unexpectedly tense finish that ended with Hermoso being sent off in stoppage time.