'The Cup that came from Brazil' – Real Madrid owe Copa del Rey win to Rodrygo, VinĂ­cius... and Neymar


Los Blancos' latest trophy has a South American flavour... and an intriguing back story

VinĂ­cius JĂşnior and Rodrygo pose with the Copa del Rey trophy after Real Madrid’s win over Osasuna on Saturday night (Picture: Getty Images)

“VinĂ­cius and Rodrygo crown Real Madrid,” said Spanish sports paper Marca on Saturday. In a 2-1 win for Los Blancos over Osasuna, the two forwards stood out: VinĂ­cius was his side’s main attacking outlet and was instrumental in both goals; Rodrygo twice put the ball in the back of the net. Between them, they won the match and also the trophy. It was, as AS called it, “the Cup that came from Brazil.”

It took just two minutes for the pair to make their mark. VinĂ­cius dribbled down the left and reached the byline with some superb skill, before cutting the ball back for Rodrygo to open the scoring. Later in the half, the pair combined to set up Karim Benzema for another glorious opportunity which was well saved. And in the second period, after Vini had got to the byline again, a Toni Kroos shot was deflected into the path of Rodrygo for the winner.

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It was Madrid’s 20th Copa del Rey and a 10th trophy across two spells at Real for coach Carlo Ancelotti, who has been asked by Brazil to manage their national team at the end of the season. Given the way VinĂ­cius and Rodrygo are thriving under his leadership, that should hardly be surprising.

But the arrival of the two young forwards – VinĂ­cius in 2018, Rodrygo the following year – can be traced back to a specific moment almost a decade ago and to another illustrious Brazilian attacker: Neymar.

Real Madrid twice tried to sign Neymar. He had travelled to the Spanish capital as a teenager in 2005 for a trial as part of the transfer which took Robinho from Santos to the Santiago Bernabéu. It went well, but the player ultimately decided to stay in Brazil. The two clubs vowed to keep in touch and they did, but by the time negotiations started again in 2011, many other teams were interested.

Despite his trial at Real as a teenager and agreeing to move there in 2011, Neymar ultimately chose Barcelona instead in 2013. Madrid president Florentino PĂ©rez was furious. Already annoyed that Los Blancos had largely been second best on the pitch to their great rivals for several seasons at that point, now they had lost out on a player he believed had been theirs. It was too much to take.

Even after his move to Barça, for a time Pérez remained determined to sign Neymar. That has not happened and now seems unlikely. Unnecessary too. But behind the scenes, Florentino did something much more important: he doubled down and improved both club contacts and strategy to ensure that the next Neymar would not slip from his grasp.

To do so, he brought in a little-known scout named Juni Calafat. Born and raised in Brazil to a Brazilian mother and a Spanish father, Calafat’s knowledge and insights into the South American nation’s football system made him the ideal man for PĂ©rez and Madrid as they sought to corner that particular market.

And they have. Madrid signed VinĂ­cius from Flamengo in 2018 and acquired Santos forward Rodrygo the following year. Vini later revealed he had an offer from Barcelona at the same time and Rodrygo was close to moving to Camp Nou prior to Calafat’s intervention. In both cases, the Madrid scout built up strong relationships with the players and their families.

When a suitcase belonging to VinĂ­cius’ mother was lost in transit, he took the family to El Corte InglĂ©s and provided vouchers for new clothing. They were impressed. So too were Rodrygo’s family. The forward has revealed that a deal with Barça was all signed before Calafat convinced his father that he should move to Madrid instead.

Real also beat Barcelona to 16-year-old Palmeiras attacker Endrick Felipe late last year. Barça coach Xavi told ESPN Brazil that he had spoken to the player, but again Calafat’s influence swung it in Madrid’s favour and the young striker will join up with Los Blancos after his 18th birthday in July next year.

“It’s the one title I hadn’t won and we’re very happy to win it,” Rodrygo said after Madrid’s Copa win on Sat

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