Raphinha have finalised a £55m move from Leeds to Barcelona; Brazilian was also wanted by Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham this summer; forward shone under Marcelo Bielsa and helped keep Leeds in the Premier League under Jesse Marsch
Wednesday 13 July 2022 11:35, UK
The stunning strike against West Brom, lifted into the top corner from outside the box. The first-time rocket against Everton which took the roof off Elland Road. The penalty, won and converted under pressure, which helped secure survival against Brentford.
Raphinha gave Leeds supporters plenty of moments to savour. His 65 Premier League appearances brought a total of 17 goals, many of them spectacular, and a lot more besides. The bewitching skill, the feints and nutmegs, will live just as long in the memory.
The 25-year-old was not widely known to English audiences when he arrived from Rennes in 2020, but he certainly is now, his explosive performances for Leeds, and subsequently Brazil, marking him out as one of the Premier League's most coveted players.
Chelsea wanted him. Arsenal and Tottenham too. But Barcelona have secured his signature, the Catalan giants agreeing a £55m deal to secure what might just prove one of the most exciting signings of the summer.
Leeds supporters would not disagree.
Raphinha lit up Elland Road. With 12 assists in addition to the 17 goals he scored, he had a direct hand in more than anyone else at the club. A talisman under both Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch, he was also a nightmarish proposition for opposition defenders.
"Every time I've watched him, I think, 'I wouldn't like to play against him'," said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville earlier this year. "He's always a huge threat," added Jamie Carragher.
The statistics show the full extent of Raphinha's attacking influence.
Since his debut in October 2020, the winger ranks top among Leeds players not just for goal involvements but for chances created, dribbles completed and shots too.
In fact, across the Premier League as a whole, he ranks joint-sixth in those three metrics, behind only a clutch of names which features Kevin de Bruyne, Heung-Min Son and Bruno Fernandes.
Raphinha played almost exclusively on the right-hand side of Leeds' attack under Bielsa and Marsch and fulfils a similar role for Brazil, but one of his biggest strengths is his unpredictability.
He is lethal when cutting inside onto his left foot but he ranked top among Leeds players for through-balls as well as shots and he can go the other way too. Nobody made more crosses.
Raphinha's set-piece delivery is another part of his armoury, both from corners and from free-kicks, and his ball-striking ability is also clear in his formidable goal threat from long range.
Since his Premier League debut, only Southampton's James Ward-Prowse can beat Raphinha's seven goals scored from outside the box, that number accounting for 40 per cent of his overall total.
Raphinha was given freedom to express himself at Leeds - "the best thing you can do with players who are so spontaneous is let them be themselves," said Bielsa - but he may be asked to pick his moments more selectively in a team geared towards keeping the ball.
Barcelona averaged 65 per cent possession to Leeds' 52 per cent last season and Raphinha will need to adapt to that change of style.
Whether it's through a pass, a cross, or with the ball at his feet, however, Barcelona will also have noted the frequency with which Raphinha gets the ball into the opposition box.
According to Opta, Raphinha has registered 468 penalty area entries since his Premier League debut, 73 more than Tottenham's Son, the next forward on the list with 395, and 217 more than West Ham's Jarrod Bowen, the player who ranks third on 251.
It is a reminder that Raphinha, while an undoubted specialist in long-range shooting, is also unrivalled in his ability to get the ball into the area in which opponents are most vulnerable.
His off-the-ball work is similarly appealing.
Raphinha regards Barcelona legend Ronaldinho as his footballing idol but his eye-catching flair is backed up by a tireless work ethic and relentless industry. He is, in that respect, the archetypal modern forward.
"These days my position isn't just about making things happen in attack, you also have to be very responsible in defence," he said in conversation with Sky Sports in March of last year.
"Ever since I started playing football I've always liked this part of the game, the intensity of running forward and tracking back.
"It's always important that a player is conscious that they must contribute as much in defence as they do in attack."
That side of his game made him a perfect fit for Bielsa, whose man-to-man marking system demands pressing all over the pitch and near-ceaseless running, and it can be seen in Raphinha's numbers.
Among forwards since his arrival in the Premier League, only Joelinton - a player who spent a considerable portion of last season playing in midfield - has made more tackles than Raphinha while none have made more ball recoveries or interceptions.
The most recent of those interceptions, when he cut out a David Raya pass before skipping past the Brentford goalkeeper to win Leeds their penalty on final day of the season, set up the most important goal of his two-year spell at the club.
That passage of play also exemplified the sheer physical intensity of Raphinha in full flow. Indeed, between his first Leeds appearance and his last, Premier League tracking data shows he made over 200 more high-intensity sprints than anyone else in the division.
It is just another reason why, less than two years on from his arrival in the Premier League, some of the biggest clubs in Europe have been queuing up to secure his signature. Soon, his penchant for the spectacular will have a new set of supporters off their seats.
A version of this article was originally published on June 29