“He’s a gem!
“I’ve never seen a 14-year-old player do what he does.”
Manchester United supporters might have one final weekend of pain to endure before they can fully focus on their bright future as a club.
On the same day Erik ten Hag was unveiled as the new United manager this week, across the city, the blue half of Manchester were celebrating another Premier League title with their latest victory parade.
Man City’s triumph in the top-flight did at least prevent United’s most fierce rivals, Liverpool, from winning an unprecedented quadruple, though this weekend they could well compensate by settling for a treble instead.
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United fans might well only have eyes for their own side, but there would certainly be plenty of consolatory celebrations if Real Madrid managed to win a 14th European Cup on Saturday night.
In order to do so, Madrid will need to rediscover the same attacking excellence that saw them stun City in the semi-finals earlier this month, and all eyes will be on their star-studded attacking stars to make the difference in Paris this weekend.
Vinicius Junior is one of those. He has been one of the standout performers for Madrid during this breakthrough season, with 21 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, but he could have so easily been a United player had the club acted upon initial scout reports to sign him.
Seven years ago, United were highly recommended the signing of the then-14-year-old by their own scouts, but they failed to act upon the advice, which would continue for the next three years.
Speaking to ESPN Brazil, former Flamengo academy coach Carlos Noval said: “A foreign scout from Manchester United said: ‘Noval, look at the player you have, he’s a gem! I’ve never seen a 14-year-old player do what he does. ‘ “That reinforced everything we already had in mind. He was a gem to be polished. Everyone wanted Vinicius.”
The Manchester Evening News understands United were actually sent over 40 individual scout reports on Vinicius, with scouts in the region urging the club’s transfer committee to sign the extremely talented teenager.
One source reiterated the contents of those reports, suggesting Vinicius was the most gifted player of his generation and that it was a ‘no-brainer’ for United to agree a package to sign him when he turned 18.
But despite the glowing references and regular recommendations for United to complete a deal for Vinicius, nothing ever materialized and those reports were never even acknowledged by the club.
Instead, it was Madrid and Barcelona who both showed an interest in signing the teenage sensation and eventually fought for his signature.
The former won the battle, as Vinicius agreed to move to the Spanish capital in May 2017, with the Spanish giants paying Flamengo € 46million for the 16-year-old’s services, making him the second-most expensive Brazilian footballer in history after Neymar, though he wouldn’t be able to complete the move for another two years.
Since then, Vinicius has gradually slotted into life in La Liga where he is now one of the most exciting talents in the top-flight and has earned international recognition with call-ups to the Brazilian national side.
On Saturday night, the 21-year-old will be one of the ones to watch in the biggest showcase event in club football.
United’s failure to act upon such high recommendations is nothing new. Back in 2020, the Manchester Evening News revealed a similar story with Alphonso Davies, a United player were recommended well over 40 times too.
“It was my first player that I recommended to United when they hired me,” former United scout Jorge Alvial told MEN Sport two years ago.
“I went ‘Wow. This is a superstar.’ “Right away for two years I recommended him at Man United. Without a doubt in mind, and I wrote over 40 reports when I was at Man United.”
At the time Alvial recommended Davies to his employers at United, the asking price from Vancouver Whitecaps was just $ 2million. He eventually joined Bayern for a then-record MLS sale worth up to $ 22million with performance-related add-ons.
Of course, every club in the world will have a string of ‘what could have been’, from Zinedine Zidane ‘almost’ joining Blackburn Rovers to Diego Maradona nearly ending up at Sheffield United.
However, United’s failure to sign a string of top talents also sheds light on the problems with their bespoke scouting database, which boastfully claimed they had looked at 804 right-backs before settling on Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Three years later, United regrets the details of that briefing, and Wan-Bissaka is free to leave the club this summer.
Recruitment sources have referenced how difficult it has previously been for United to determine which players in their database really are standout talents, such is the overload of information being input by scouts all over the world.
It is even understood that United at one stage had three full-time scouts all operating on the same conflicting patch, wasting their resources by effectively employing three people to do the job of one person.
If you consider the numbers referenced in the Wan-Bissaka case, it is hard to imagine any top-flight footballer not being in United’s database at some stage, once again highlighting just how hard it is for them to focus on finding the real diamonds amongst the rough.
With another seismic summer on the cards under Erik ten Hag, it is crucial that United find a way to streamline their scouting operations in order to focus on quality rather than quantity in the transfer market.
In sheer probability, a few top talents will always fall through the net, but by overhauling their approach in the transfer market, United can at least manage to shorten those odds.
Vinicius Junior highlights a senior issue.