Real Madrid went to the Metropolitan and danced in response to their derby win over Atletico Madrid and the racism that overshadowed it. Goals from Rodrigo and Fede Valverde sent Carlo Ancelotti’s side top of the table and maintained a 100 per cent record this season, but it was a night – a week, actually – that will be remembered more for what happened off the pitch, with Atletico fans chanting Vinicius Jr. .
Footage from outside showed a significant number of fans making their way into the stadium chanting “Vinicius is a monkey”. Amidst the whistles as the Brazilian touched the ball for the first time, what sounded like monkey chants could also be heard. It didn’t happen again later and when Vinicius lost the ball trying to complete a late rainbow they chanted “fool, fool”. As Madrid players celebrated the opening goal in a 2-1 win against their rivals, some objects were thrown at them.
The outside abuse followed a video of Vinicius responding to criticism of his alleged provocative behavior by denouncing the racism he feels he is exposed to and which he believes is at the root of the attacks.
What initially was an almost completely fabricated debate about his style and his habit of dancing to celebrate goals built up all week and eventually, and with depressing inevitability, ended with this episode of racism in the stadium.
Last Sunday there was a confrontation between Vinicius and some Mallorca players who thought he was a demonstrator. He danced as he scored, as he often does. Mallorca manager Javier Aguirre spoke to him during the game, but afterwards said it was unimportant and congratulated Madrid on their win.
Despite unto downplay it, there was a debate around it that overtook the game, becoming inevitable in the media. Football agent Pedro Bravo, a guest on Spanish TV show Chiringuito, where far-fetched arguments are a staple, referred to Vinicius as “monkeying” and suggested he quit dancing at the Sambadrome. He later apologized, saying he had used the phrase “figuratively.”
As the clip went viral, Vinicius’ support poured in, with Neymar, Dani Alves and even Pele. Later, Atlético captain Koke was asked about the Brazilian’s likely reaction should he score and celebrate the goal by dancing. Koke replied that he would “lio probably” [trouble, or a mess].
Vinicius made a statement on the eve of the match. “They say happiness annoys people,” he said. “The happiness of a black Brazilian who won in Europe is much greater. A few weeks ago, they started criminalizing me for dancing.” The dance, he said, belongs not only to him but to many players, including Atlético’s Antoine Griezmann, funk and samba artists, reggaeton and black Americans, and “celebrates 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 defense of their player and against racism. In his pre-match press conference, more than half of the questions directed at Carlo Ancelotti were about Vinicius. “Much has been said about provocation; Racism is another topic that is much more important,” he said.
“We didn’t talk about racism in the dressing room because the player responded well to his statement and that’s it.” Neymar tweeted: “Dance Vinny” before asking the following day: “Am I the only one who woke up wanting Vinicius to score tomorrow?”
In the end, he didn’t, but he danced. Atlético were blown away, but Real Madrid weathered that initial storm. Felipe sent one header into the roof of the goal, Yannick Carrasco hit the side and Joao Felix was blocked. Griezmann, who was surprisingly included in the starting line-up despite Atletico’s attempts to avoid a mandatory buyout from Barcelona by not playing him, saw a shot saved by Thibaut Courtois.
But then Rodrigo scored a superb first goal, turning a deft free-kick into the net. He celebrated by dancing on the south end of the pitch, joined by his teammates. They weren’t done yet: a sharp one-two between Luka Modric and Vinicius took the Brazilian out of bounds.
He ran into the area and hit the post, the ball dropped for Valverde to fly in to finish. The people of Madrid danced again. It was a long road ahead, but it felt so good until Mario Hermas’ late goal set up an unexpectedly tense finish that ended with Hermas being sent off in stoppage time.