Vinicius Jr ignited the conversation on racism in football after he came under the onslaught of Valencia fans on Sunday at the Mestalla Stadium in Spain.
Real Madrid traveled to take on Valencia, who were battling relegation from Spain topflight, in a feisty La Liga clash.
Valencia ran out 1-0 winners after the final whistle but the spates of controversies and tense moments in the game dominated the headlines.
Vinicius Jr was racially abused by Valencia fans during the match.
At a point, the match was paused for some minutes as Vinicius Jr attempted to personally fight back the racial slurs by the fans.
With the hostile fans at the stand, the game was already poised for a boilerplate finish. After resumption of play, another melee broke out in extra time. This time, not on the stands with the hostile fans but against an opposition player, Hugo Duro.
Vinicius Jr and Hugo Duro squared up against each other with the latter headlocking him while he (Vinicius Jr) punched him on the face.
Following the clash, the Brazil international was sent off, earning his first red card of his career.
After the game, Vinicius slammed La Liga and Spain for allowing racism bite deep into Spanish football.
He cited instances of racial abuses in La Liga that has gone unpunished while the authorities continue talking and not taking action.
His comment was met with rebuke and fury by La Liga Chief, Javier Tebas, who blasted him for labeling Spain and La Liga racist.
Javier Tebas’ response angered Vinicius Jr who then lashed out on the football chief for choosing to attack him instead of taking action against racists.
The online spat between the two sparked more reactions with many calling for an end to racism in La Liga and in global football generally.
Real Madrid gave Vinicius Jr assurances of the club’s solidarity and have swung into action, filing a ‘hate crime’ complaint against Valencia fans to the office of the Attorney General in Spain.
English pundit, Rio Ferdinand, called for Javier Tebas to step down. FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, asked La Liga to “take action” and “stop talking.”
Following widespread condemnation, we reported earlier that Spanish police have arrested four in connection with the incident with the Spanish FA equally swinging into action.
Vinicius Jr’s red card was reversed. The stand on which the fans hurled racial abuses on Vinicius Jr was closed for five matches, and Valencia hit with a £40,000 fine.
However, former Liverpool goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, 40, seems to tow a different path on the racism row involving Vinicius Jr.
Speaking with marca, the Spain legendary goalkeeper condemned the racist chants by Valencia fans but cautioned Vinicius Jr.
“First and foremost, racism should be stopped by all means. However, not all Spanish stadiums or fans are racists”, he said.
Reina added Vinicius Jr should be cautioned to be more mature especially on away games because it seems every match away from Santiago Bernabeu is a war for him.
“He [Vinicius] is becoming one of the best in the world,” Reina continued. “But I think he must also mature in behaviour, in having more respect for his rivals, in understanding some unwritten football values or codes.
“That would improve his performance. It can’t be that every game away from home is a war for him”.
Valencia player and former Brazil international, Gabriel Paulista, backs Valencia fans
Valencia defender and former Brazil international, Gabriel Paulista backed Valencia fans in the heat of the Vinicius jr racism row.
Paulista took to his social media handle to post the fans at Mestalla stadium and wrote, “Mestalla, you are the best.”
Both Pepe Reina, 40, and Gabriel Paulista, 32, are Spanish nationals but Paulista naturalized his Spain citizenship.
He was once called up for Brazil national team in 2015 but did not make an appearance for the team before switching his nationality to Spain in 2020. He is yet to make an appearance for Spain.
Pepe Reina is Spanish by birth and one of the most experienced goalkeepers with a legendary career. He has played for Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Napoli, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Barcelona before settling with Villarreal in 2022.
Despite widespread condemnations of the attack on Vinicius Jr, the stance of the two players underscore the enduring divisions in the rank of footballers on the question of racism in football.