FC Barcelona stars Joao Felix and Ilkay Gundogan have both defended Real Madrid rival Vinicius Jr. on the eve of El Clasico.
Aside from his two-assist Man of the Match display in the Champions League this week which helped seal a 2-1 win over Braga, the Brazilian has again been the focus of controversial debate.
During the match, Barca board member Miquel Camps said that he “deserves a slap” for showboating when slowing the play down during the match in Portugal.
Camps also implied that Vinicius is not a real victim of racism in spite of the abuse he has received around Spain – the most recent of which came last Saturday at Sevilla when a young fan appeared to pretend to be a monkey in his direction in the 1-1 draw.
Talking to ESPN, Felix defended Vinicius who he professed to liking, and called him a “cheerful player”.
“All the things he does that people say make players irritated, I don’t agree. That’s football and football has those things. It’s not just about running, scoring goals and defending. I think there has to be a bit of joy in the game as well,” Felix added.
“Both he (Vini) and I, Rodrygo, Pedri and Lamine bring it to the game. And I think that also brings people to the stadium and that motivates them to watch football.
“Everyone is the way they are. I’m talking about dribbling and irreverence. We always need players like that in our teams,” Felix concluded.
On TV3 in Catalonia, ex-Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan, who faced Vinicius on his way to the Champions League trophy last term, also had Vinicius’ corner.
“Someone can interpret Vinicius’ actions as a provocation, but for me, honestly, they are not. Evidently, he already knows that if he does these things he will be whistled. But maybe he likes to be whistled, I don’t know…,” Gundogan trailed off.
“Some players experience it as an extra element of motivation. It happens to myself, that when I play away [from home] and they whistle me, I get more motivated.
“We live in a world where there are many ways to do things and as long as it is with respect, everyone should be able to show their emotions,” Gundogan protested.
In the latest edition of the world’s biggest derby, set to be played on Saturday afternoon at the Montjuic Stadium, Vinicius Jr. is guaranteed to receive hostile treatment from Barca fans who it is hoped will keep their jeering within the scope of what is acceptable in the sporting arena.