There has been a recurring theme in Brazil games since Raphinha started playing for his national team. So often, during the early part of matches, Brazil win the ball, and their number 19 becomes a blur as he sprints down the right wing, screaming for a pass. So often, Raphinha gets ignored. Eventually the ball will end up at Rapha’s feet by chance, and that’s when the rest of the Brazil team have a moment of clear recognition. Bloody hell, he’s brilliant!
It took Raphinha nine minutes before getting a meaningful touch in Brazil’s win over Japan on Monday. Until then, his teammates were passing towards Neymar, who was playing as a central striker but dropping deep to win fouls, moaning at Japan’s players and the referee whenever someone dared to tackle him. Twice Dani Alves ignored Rapha’s pleas to release him on the break, passing inside instead. Within seconds of his eventual first touch, Raphinha had his second, neatly receiving a crossfield pass and flicking it over a defender’s head into the path of Lucas Paqueta with one touch. Now whenever a Brazil player looked up to see Rapha in wide open spaces on the right wing, they tried to switch play to him as much as possible, remembering that might be a decent idea.
It’s a sign of Raphinha’s unique status at this point of his career. Clearly a world-class talent, he still lacks the reputation of his international teammates from Real Madrid, PSG and Barcelona. If Neymar wants to do something for Brazil, he does it; meanwhile Rapha is waiting for a pass with his hands in the air. Such clubs might want to sign him, which would undoubtedly give Raphinha a boost in profile, but the last week may have helped improve our hopes that he might be hanging around at Leeds United a little while longer.
Brazil beat South Korea 5-1 on Thursday, following that with a 1-0 win over Japan this week. Raphinha was substituted off in the second half of both matches, playing 140 minutes across the two. He has impressed in both, yet had the good grace to go under the radar in comparison to some of the star names. Of Brazil’s five against South Korea, Rapha neither scored nor assisted any, stinging a volley against the crossbar when he should have scored in the first half. That allowed Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus to get some attention with goals in the last ten minutes from the bench. Phil has already got his glamour move to Birmingham sorted, but Jesus still fancies a transfer out of Manchester City. If you’re reading, Barcelona, he sounds like a good option! Against Japan, Rapha created a chance with a clever reverse pass to Neymar and threatened from set-pieces (when Neymar let him take them), but left the pitch shortly after an hour before Neymar won the game with his third penalty in two matches.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Japan game, Raphinha was asked whether the upcoming World Cup will influence his decision this summer:
“If I say that it doesn’t matter, I would be lying, knowing that there are less than six months left for the Cup, you have to be active in the clubs, that weighs on the decision, but I trust my potential. If it’s to stay or leave, I’ll do my best, look for my space and I’ll try to be well for the World Cup.”
He was pushed on what the future holds, grinning:
“The next game, against Japan. Then I go on vacation. I have a contract with Leeds until 2024, my future is in the hands of Deco and Leeds, I have my mind on the national team, on the game and also on my vacation, we need a vacation. I have a contract with Leeds and this issue is resolved by my manager, when something is right, he sends [it to] me.”
Not a day goes by without a Raphinha to Barcelona story, but last week The Athletic published a piece discussing whether they can even afford him. After spending €55m on Ferran Torres as well as signing Dani Alves, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore midway through last season, Barca have now been reminded they are skint and are currently unable to register new signings Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie due to their excessive wage bill. How they’re expecting to sign Raphinha sounds even more baffling given they also want current winger Ousmane Dembele to sign a new deal. There remains a decent possibility that Rapha’s move to Barcelona doesn’t happen because they can’t find any suckers willing to buy former Middlesbrough dud Martin Braithwaite, just like they were looking for someone daft enough to sign Junior Firpo last summer.
Even La Liga president Javier Tebas has been taking the piss out of Barcelona for also trying to sign Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich:
“Barca know what they have to do. They know perfectly well our economic controls and their financial situation. I don’t know if they will sell Frenkie de Jong, Pedri or Pepito Perez [an actor from Barcelona who died almost fifty years ago]. They have to fill up their tank, which is empty. As things stand, they cannot sign Lewandowski.”
Part of me admires La Liga’s real-time auditing of their clubs’ finances, but I also find Tebas’ stance confusing when he was recently complaining to UEFA about Kylian Mbappe choosing the new money of PSG rather than accepting the old money of Real Madrid, who have spent the last two years giving Gareth Bale over half a million quid a week to not play for them. Mbappe’s new deal with PSG might have come at a good time for Leeds, too. Neymar looks like he wants to be bezzies with Raphinha whenever they play together, but PSG have given Mbappe a say in who they sign as part of his new contract (football clubs are run by idiots). Neymar might like Rapha, but Mbappe surely doesn’t want a player around who is going to steal his place in the team.
It all sounds confusing and stressful to me. Raphinha has done his job for both Leeds and Brazil this season, now he just wants to go on holiday, relax, and let his agent Deco do his job. Maybe, like the rest of us, he just needs some downtime to decompress from 2021/22. Maybe he’ll sit on a beach drinking some caipirinhas, thinking about how Leeds United value him more than Barcelona, or how he’d have to accept others getting preferential treatment at PSG. Maybe he’ll look at the waves lapping the shore, and feel the sun on his face, and start missing Wetherby town centre. In fact, the more I think about it, if I was him I’d give it another six months at Elland Road. ⬢