Real have been ruthless in the acquisition of the best young talent from Brazil since losing the striker to Barcelona, and that is no coincidence
The date itself may not mean much to all but the most attentive of Real Madrid fans, but June 3, 2013 marked a red letter day for the Spanish giants. On that day, a smiling Neymar was presented at Camp Nou, Barcelona having beaten out their great rivals to the Santos and Brazil prodigy after a bitter transfer battle.
Madrid put on a brave front in the years that followed despite the clear disappointment at missing out on a player who, even before his first taste of European football, had been marked out as a future superstar. The endless headaches caused by Neymar and his entourage and the aftermath of Barca's messy negotiations, including a swathe of legal battles, may have vindicated Madrid on a financial level. However they did little to ease the nagging feeling that they were beaten to the punch.
President Florentino Perez will not risk a repeat of June 3, 2013. Since that fateful summer afternoon Madrid have left no stone unturned in ensuring the best young Brazilian talent moves to the Bernabeu, a process that has continued with the signing of Reinier, who swaps Flamengo for the Spanish capital. The deal was confirmed on Monday – just a day after he turned 18 – and was worth €35 million (£29.8m/$38.8m).
“Real Madrid are the greatest. When I was very little I used to watch the Madrid Galactico games with my father,” the teenager told Marca in his first interview as a Blanco this week. “I loved Madrid. And of course since then I have always loved them.
“Zidane and Kaka have always been my idols because of their style of playing in midfield, with elegance and daring. But I have seen so many good players in Madrid... Benzema and Hazard are pure artists! My word, they play so well!”
It may yet be a while before Madrid fans see their new signing in action. Hamstrung by a lack of non-European Union places in their squad, filled by fellow Brazilians Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Eder Militao, Reinier is expected to initially line up with Castilla under the tutelage of Raul, although a loan move elsewhere in La Liga – Espanyol are one side reportedly interested in such a transfer – is also a possibility.
But the Bernabeu faithful need not wait until he plays in Europe to catch a glimpse of their latest acquisition. Reinier is currently on duty with Brazil Under-23s in their quest to reach this summer's Olympic Games, where he will look to follow in the footsteps of none other than Neymar himself and win a gold medal – one of several areas where the pair's careers show signs of overlapping.
Both the PSG star and Madrid's gem hold the distinction of winning the Copa Libertadores, South America's biggest prize, while still in their teens, although Neymar was already the star attraction at 19 when helping Santos lift the 2011 trophy while Reinier played only a marginal role in Flamengo's road to glory.
Each also hit the headlines early for their exploits for the national team. Neymar made his senior international debut aged 18 and also starred at Under-17 and 20 levels, leading the latter to South American Championship glory with nine goals in seven games alongside fellow prodigy Lucas Moura, before later sealing Olympic gold in 2016 on home soil.
Reinier, meanwhile, took the captain's armband for the 2019 U-17 Sudamericano, and while talks over his Madrid move were progressing in January he was already in Colombia preparing for the Pre-Olympic tournament.
After making a short cameo in Brazil's opening match, a 1-0 victory over Peru, the midfielder was once more left on the bench to take on Uruguay. The Selecao nevertheless wasted little time in taking the lead, with Corinthians' Pedrinho – linked with Barca in 2019, a sign if nothing else that all promising Brazilian youngsters are under the spotlight as soon as they begin to show glimpses of talent – finishing with class 15 minutes in.
Once more Reinier had limited opportunity to make an impact, entering as a false nine with Brazil leading 3-1 10 minutes from the end. But he looked comfortable and selfless in his movements, linking well with Pedrinho and the midfield and forcing Uruguay goalkeeper Ignacio de Arruabarrena into a save with a late shot on the edge of the area.
Whether Reinier's absence from the Brazil starting line-up in these two opening Pre-Olympic clashes owes to the management's attempts to shield him from undue pressure during negotiations with Madrid, or otherwise is an acknowledgment that he is not quite on the same level as his team-mates is difficult to gauge. Either interpretation would be justified; the teenager is almost a year the junior of the next-youngest player on the squad and, with the likes of Pedrinho, Leverkusen prospect Paulinho, Sao Paulo's Antony and Pepe of Gremio, author of Brazil's sublime third goal, all tussling for forward places, competition is fierce.
In any case, the gulf between someone like Neymar and Madrid's new signing is as clear as their similarities. In 2013 Barcelona signed a forward who, a few rough edges notwithstanding, was the finished article, ready to jump into the first team and star alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
With the best will in the world Reinier, with just over 700 professional minutes played in his entire career, is not there yet. Talented though he doubtlessly is, at 18 he will need plenty of time to settle and hone his trade before he is ready to star for a team of Madrid's calibre.
Dwelling on that fact, however, is to miss the point entirely. The reason why Perez and Madrid have swooped for Reinier now is that they do not want anyone else to have him, least of all Barca, who made tentative contacts with the player's father prior to Monday's move. And behind it all stands Neymar: the man whose transfer traumatised all concerned at the Bernabeu, creating a determination to never again miss the boat on the next top talent, whatever it may cost.
-- Courtesy of Goal.com