Jack Harrison describes it as fantastic, Patrick Bamford considers it a steal. Both knew from the first session. “You know sometimes with the players if they are first class, and he really was,” said the forward. Sky Sports. “He stood out right away.”
Leeds United have found one in Raphinha.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side are fun to watch anyway, but the Brazilian makes the difference, creating more chances and completing more dribbles than any of his teammates.
They don’t have a separate stat for Mind-Blowing Deception, but Raphinha would surely be superior to that as well. Just ask Gary Cahill, victim of an outrageous nutmeg against Crystal Palace, or Jan Bednarek, the Southampton defender in Tuesday’s race.
It adds inspiration to perspiration for Leeds de Bielsa.
At 24 and already playing in his third European league since leaving Brazil as a teenager, Raphinha has not seen success overnight. And yet speaking to those who witnessed the early years of his development and rise to the Premier League comes as no shock.
Vitor Campelos, his first coach in Europe, believes he will continue to play for Brazil, while the man who first saw Raphinha’s talents at home also believes the journey is far from over.
“I always told people that he was the best player I had worked with in the Avai youth team because of the potential he showed us,” said Diogo Fernandes. Sky Sports.
“At that point I said he would continue to play for Barcelona or another of the best clubs in Europe. He was destined to reach the top echelons of football because of his qualities, his ability to dribbling, his intelligence and his finish. He was almost complete. “
Fernandes is the youth system coordinator of Avai, the Brazilian club based in the city of Florianopolis. He remembers seeing Raphinha first play when he was a skinny kid at Imbituba, a small second division team in Santa Catarina state.
“I went to watch him and his potential was immediately evident. We brought him to Avai and after having some initial adjustment difficulties he really blossomed in his sophomore year.”
He was a gifted youngster with the ball at his feet but still raw. A charming tale from the Avai academy highlights his inexperience.
“We used to use him wide on the right even though he was left footed,” says Fernandes. “One of our frequent plays was the diagonal of the left-defender, which by chance was Gabriel, who is now at Arsenal. The coach used this change a lot.
“In training, Gabriel would throw that ball towards Raphinha and sometimes he would hit the pass. Because our training ground was very open, Raphinha would often catch the ball to prevent it from running too far and having to go for it. look for. .
“We were playing against Inter in the Copa Rio Grande do Sul. As it was very competitive, it goes without saying that Raphinha had already received a yellow card in the game.
“The ball was handed to him and unfortunately his teammate hit the pass. In order not to let the ball go out of play, Raphinha automatically reached out to stop it. Of course, they gave him a second card. yellow and he was kicked out. “
There is another story that alludes to his naivety.
This time he was booked incorrectly and started to scold the official, pointing out that it was his teammate who actually committed the offense. Others must have reminded him that this would have resulted in the expulsion of his already booked colleague.
Fernandes’ reveals that when challenged, Raphinha pointed out that he could also have received a second yellow later in the game. Maybe it wasn’t so much an example of youthful inexperience but more of his hyper-competitive spirit.
Calm off the pitch, his ambition was never questioned.
“Off the field, he was a calm, serene boy. He spoke very little with his companions. No one who saw him off the pitch would have guessed that he would be so agitated on the pitch.
“But on this pitch, yes, he was extremely competitive, explosive even. He wanted to win everything he contested. When it came to training, his position, his minutes on the pitch, he didn’t. there was no room to negotiate. He always wanted to do it. Be the best. “
His talent stood out in the Copa Sao Paulo and various regional competitions. Fernandes remembers scoring 22 goals in a particular state competition. “He’s always been the star.”
This quickly aroused interest from abroad. Former Barcelona midfielder Deco used his connections in Portugal to arrange a move to Vitoria Guimaraes before making his debut for Avai.
Initially, Raphinha found himself working with Campelos in the B team of Vitoria. Joining his new team midway through the season in January 2016, it didn’t take long for his new coach to draw the same conclusions Bamford later and Fernandes did.
He was a player you only had to see once.
“When my technical team and I saw him you could tell in the first training session that he had something different,” says Campelos Sky Sports. “We knew he was from Brazil where football is tactically wilder, so he had to improve tactically.
“But the potential was clear. He had very good technique and was very strong in individual situations. He had that quality that gave him the potential to go to a high level.
“Plus, he was the kind of player who gave 100% even in training. Whether it was a short sprint, a big sprint, any situation. He gave 100%.”
Campelos echoes many of the sentiments expressed by Fernandes, referring to a “very good boy with very good energy” and there are similar stories about his passion for the game.
“He’s the kind of guy who puts too much emotion in training and games because he wants to win every time. Even though it’s a small-scale game, he wants to win. “
Looking back, Vitoria was the perfect place to make the transition to European football. “We have a history of Brazilian players here, so the integration was easy,” says Campelos. “It’s a beautiful city, a lot of Brazilians, the same language. It’s easier. We had 17 nationalities in the team so Raphinha was not going to be a problem.”
He only spent half a season in Team B, learning quickly.
“It was an important time for him to grow up as there were little things he needed to improve on due to a wild style of football that wasn’t so tactically rigorous.
“We tried to play him left and right. We even put him as a striker for a few games and he did really well. We discussed the body position, the orientation when receiving the ball. This is a point that can decide certain games, it is very important.
“He’s very smart so he always uses his experience to be better. It was great for him and he scored a few goals, preparing to reach the next level. After that, the rest is history.”
Success with Vitoria resulted in a transfer to Sporting before moving to France and spending a season in Rennes. The Premier League is just the next step and this ability to do something different will keep him garnering attention.
Clubs will pay to use it. Fans will pay to watch it.
“Dribbling is always the most dangerous thing for a defense,” Bielsa said Sky Sports after posting Raphinha against Palace. “It solves all the problems that arise when a team comes together. It’s an alternative to combined play and, yes, it’s hard to find.”
Leeds found him in Raphinha but his qualities are so special that he is already linked with a departure from Elland Road. His former coaches don’t think the journey is over yet.
“I’m not at all surprised by his progress,” says Fernandes. “I’ve always seen him reach the top of European football. That’s the level we expected of him at the time. There is still room for him to develop. I think he is. will go even further in his career. “
“He’s a dreamer, the kind of guy who always works knowing his goal he wants to achieve. From the first day I met him he knew where he wanted to go.
“His dreams won’t stop now. I believe he has the dream of playing for the Brazilian national team. He has the quality to make that dream come true on his own. I think he will achieve it.”