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The Surprising Feature of Reinier Jesus’ Game

The 20-year-old Brazilian has found a good landing spot in Girona and now with some matches under his belt we can dissect his best features.

Real Betis v Girona FC - LaLiga Santander Photo by Juanjo Ubeda/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Matt’s Monday Musings: A series with no rhyme or reason — just consistent thoughts on all things Real Madrid released every Monday. Some weeks may be long form, others just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I’ll be posting reflective content on the current, past, and future on-goings of the club:

Reinier Jesus is a strange case. He was not your run of the mill young prospect that Real Madrid gambled on with a few million here and a few million there. Think of players like Kubo, Odegaard, or Valverde — all brought in for less than €5 million. If they failed to make the grade, Madrid would hope to turn a profit. Even if a profit was not feasible, Madrid was prepared to chalk it up to a loss. It was a gamble worth taking, especially if a player did end up contributing to the first team. The whole youth policy or strategy has been akin to a venture capitalist, as outlined in a previous Musings.

Reinier’s case is different than those aforementioned names. His transfer was near replica of the Rodrygo and Vinicius moves. A Brazilian “prodigy” bought for big figures (€35 million in Reinier’s case). There is always a risk when betting on young players, but when figures above €30 million go out — Madrid are typically very confident on the player’s ability. Only three other players fall under the category of teenagers that cost over €30 million: Theo, Rodrygo, and Vinicius. When valuations of teenagers get that high, the idea is they are already have qualities that would allow them to contribute to the Real Madrid first team.

Given that Reinier was a near replica of the Rodrygo and Vinicius transfers, why did he not follow the same career path? A few items worked against the Brazilian: the COVID-19 outbreak and the availability of non-EU spots in the squad. Reinier joined Real Madrid in January of 2020 with the same path outlined as his compatriots: start in Castilla and integrate into the first team. After finishing with Olympic duty in January, Reinier managed just 3 games with Castilla before the lockdown took hold. He played well during that time and managed 2 goals and an assist — impressing the Castilla Corner group who dubbed him as a better performer in Castilla than Vinicius or Rodrygo.

With no-EU spots available, the thought was Reinier was too talented to stay in Castilla. Many clubs wanted his signature, but Dortmund and Lucien Favre won out. Two years later, that move can only be categorized as a failure. Reinier rarely played. A move to Girona came together this summer and the recently promoted La Liga side play a brand of football that is beneficial to Reinier’s style of play.

So the question that now materializes after nearly 3 years is what does Reinier Jesus excel at? What differentiates him at the top level? Watching him play, he does not stick out as a Real Madrid player. With Vinicius, you have the break-neck speed and the dribbling. With Rodrygo, it was always the impressive technical ability, composure in front of goal, and off ball movement. Between his two and half years on loan, I have seen nearly ~700 minutes of Reinier’s football, yet I cannot quite put my thumb on what makes him a Real Madrid player.

He has a knack for using his big frame and holding off defenders. He is particular adept at playing with his back to goal, with a defender hounding him from behind, and then connecting play with quick one or two touch lay-offs. In fact, he sits in the 88th percentile for passes completed while under pressure.

To my surprise, passes under pressure was not where Reinier truly exceled. It turns out, Reinier Jesus is a work-horse defensive forward. When compared to other wingers and attacking midfielders, Reinier ranks 99th in tackles per 90, 95th percentile in tackles won, 89th in applied pressure and 90th in successful pressure.

Reinier is a fantastic tackler of the ball and presses like a maniac

When I first compiled a scouting report on Reinier during his Flamengo days, it was his futevolei touch (Brazilian beach soccer) and late arriving runs that stood out. A player in the mold of Paulinho or Arturo Vidal. What did not stand out at that time was his work rate and extreme defensive competency.

Given his price tag, I would not be surprised if Real Madrid want to give the player at least one season in the first team. Whether a spot is deserved or not, Real Madrid will want to be sure of what they have before disposing of Reinier’s talent. The three teenagers they had signed for similar figures have all proven to be UEFA Champions League level players. With the non-EU spots soon to be vacant courtesy of Vinicius (already a Spanish citizen), Rodyrgo, and Militao, a feasible role could develop as Benzema’s back-up. Once Reinier recovers from injury (currently sidelined for 4 weeks with a thigh injury), the curious case of what type of player he is will continue to unravel as he gains continuity at Girona.

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