Ronaldo Vieira burst onto the Leeds United scene around this time last year, featuring as a 16-year-old trialist for the Under-21s in a match against Isle of Man FC.
As a result of his performance that day, one that belied the maturity of his tender years, plus a string of impressive performances in the Under-18 and Under-21 squads, Leeds signed him to a two-year scholarship deal. That was September 30 2015, just eight months later and on a steady diet of Under-21 games, Ronaldo Vieira signed his first professional on May 5 2016 – appearing in the first team two days later for the last game of the season against Preston North End at Deepdale.
Now considered a vital member of the first-team squad, the then still 17-year-old played in both games on the Ireland training camp, making a 30 minute appearance against Shelbourne on Wednesday evening and playing for 60 minutes in the game against Shamrock Rovers. Across both games, the displays of the youngster have drawn rave reviews from those who have seen him in action.
From those displays, he gained credit from many who were impressed by the skill and maturity shown from a player so young.
Ronaldo Vieira, Saturday and the Atalanta test
But the biggest test that he had to face to-date was Saturday’s game against the most prestigious opposition that he had yet faced in the shape of Serie A side Atalanta BC. This was a top-tier Italian side who finished 13th in the league last season but a team nonetheless more than a head and shoulders above the level of Leeds United. He was in amongst a midfield that contained Alejandro Gomez (£7.65m rated former Argentina Under-20 international), Marco D’Alessandro (eight-cap Italy Under-21), Franck Kessie (19-year-old, four-cap full Ivory Coast international) and Jasmin Kurtic (33-cap Slovenian international).
The thing is, youngster Vieira did not look a step out-of-place; in fact he almost looked like a seasoned and accomplished professional with many appearances under his belt. He was strong in the tackle, stood up to much more experience opposition well, dominated when he had to and had an excellent eye for a quick break and pass out of defensive situations.
The talk over in The Old Peacock before the game was that Ronaldo Vieira was “a baller”, a “box-to-box midfielder” who is the next one to break through from Leeds’ famed Academy set-up and hit the first-team running. Without gathering all the eggs on the farm, placing them in close proximity to each other and then letting some five-year-olds look after them, Ronaldo Vieira did look the part yesterday.
An example of his youthful exuberance and lack of care for the quality of the opposition was the way he chased down pacy right-wing D’Alessandro after the Italian had burst forward and profited from a rapid counter-attack. Vieira chased down his man, putting in a crunching challenge that drew roars of approval from the Kop. It really is too early to say just what level of an effect that Ronaldo Vieira will have on Leeds United’s 2016/17 Championship campaign.
But you can bet that he will have an effect.