''I dream of representing the Selecao'' - how Leeds United can help Raphinha realise Brazil ambition
The Whites star winger Raphinha has enjoyed an impressive campaign to date.
Raphinha’s arrival and subsequent season with Leeds United has been something of a whirlwind.
The Brazilian landed in West Yorkshire on deadline day last September, a little-known figure to the majority of Whites supporters who welcomed him.
His signature demanded United to part with £17m for his services which, in hindsight, looks like a snip for the contribution he has already made under Marcelo Bielsa.
When Deco - his agent - rang Victor Orta to reveal his availability, the LS11 sporting director knew straight away he was someone he wanted in his squad at Elland Road, such was the detail of his scouting.
“I want him, I want him,” cried Orta, who was sitting in Leeds city centre having lunch at the time of the phone call. Less than 24 hours later the Spaniard had his man - and Raphinha hasn’t looked back since.
The 24-year-old has made 21 starts in the Premier League this season after adapting to England’s top flight with incredible ease.
Six goals, five assists and bags of trickery have come in that time - forcing some to claim that the gong for this term’s breakout star should land on the winger’s mantelpiece.
Raphinha’s arrival from French outfit Stade Rennes was officially dotted with a thud of his left boot against Everton at Goodison Park - a goal which earned Leeds a big three points on Merseyside.
A stunning strike against West Brom and an inch-perfect free-kick against Southampton followed, not to mention his magical feet at Craven Cottage against Fulham.
The spotlight of the Premier League has allowed the winger to showcase his talents on a larger global scale, such is the international TV allure of the top flight, after stints in France and Portugal - two strong leagues in their own right.
The focus is greater under a worldwide microscope in England and the competition is supposedly tougher - though Raphinha wouldn’t have you believe the latter.
“In Brazil, they don’t understand who Raphinha is, despite showing his ability in Europe,” Deco said of his client back in October. “It isn’t easy to transfer almost four times in a two-year interval. His rise is very fast. In Brazilian football, I don’t think there is another left-footer with his traits.”
If Brazil truly weren’t aware of his capabilities then they certainly will be now, such is the stage he is currently playing on with Leeds - not to mention the focus his manager brings.
His impact in West Yorkshire has been swift enough to force the dreaded rumour mill into action and it continues to whir away in the background.
Raphinha, though, stated his happiness openly and made a point of thanking his teammates and head coach, Bielsa - a man who he describes as the ‘professor’ - for their role in his adaptation period.
A dream of playing on the world stage in the Premier League has been fulfilled and, no matter where his club career may or may not take him in future, another burning desire awaits - such is the ambition of United’s star wide man.
“My main focus at the moment is always the club, it is doing my best here, working really hard, giving my everything,” he said recently.
“As a result of that work, the results [of a possible Brazil call up] will come. As a Brazilian, like any other Brazilian player, I dream of representing the Selecao, I dream of putting the shirt on and representing my country.”
Neymar on one flank, Leeds United’s Raphinha on the other; a sentence which would have been laughed at even 12 months ago.
As defenders brace for possible sleepless nights at the thought of that combination, potential inclusion in Brazil’s squad for the current March international break may have been premature.
Owing to circumstance, the decision was taken out of boss Tite’s hands anyway, after all World Cup qualifiers in South America were cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Brazil’s clash with old foe Argentina will have to wait for another day, as will Raphinha’s dream of following in the footsteps of some incredible players before him.
In the short term, he can keep working away in the knowledge that there is no better place to be, such is the platform Leeds have given him and the form he continues to produce.
“If that [a Brazil call up] is not possible, it won’t change,” Raphinha admitted.
“I’ll continue working hard, doing my best, getting the results, both individual awards and working for the team.
“If the chance to play [for] the Selecao does come along, I would embrace that opportunity and make the most of it. But if it doesn’t, the focus would still be Leeds and the results.
“If it does come about, it would be that dream come true, [like] for any Brazilian player.”