Leeds United's Raphinha opens up on Premier League pact frustration, Italian interest, Ronaldinho video message and Brazil debut butterflies

The frustration of an aborted first call up firmly behind him, Leeds United's Raphinha has spoken of his joy at receiving a video message from Ronaldinho and his Brazil butterflies ahead of a possible Friday night debut.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 4:43 am
PENNY DROPPING - Leeds United winger Raphinha's dream of representing Brazil is slowly dawning on him this week ahead of a possible debut on Friday night. Pic: Getty

UK government quarantine rules led to a Premier League wide pact to keep players from travelling to red list countries for the September internationals.

The pact cost Raphinha his first opportunity to represent his home nation and threatened to spark to a club versus country row, before positive discussions brought a compromise between FIFA, the Premier League and the government in the UK.

When Tite included the winger in his squad for October games against Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay, Raphinha was permitted to travel on the condition that he will quarantine at a club facility or hotel chosen by Leeds when he returns from Brazil's Covid-19 bubble.

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He will, however, be allowed out to play and train.

The 24-year-old is just glad to have put the disappointment of what happened a month ago behind him, having tried all in his power to make his dream come true.

"It was very complicated, I was very frustrated," he said at a press conference previewing the Venezuela World Cup Qualifier.

"It was my first call, I was really looking forward to coming and showing my work.

"Of course I hoped to come until the last moment. I kept in touch with Juninho, the committee staff as well, talking to the club staff to see if somehow this could be resolved, but unfortunately it wasn't. These were government and country issues, which were not for us to resolve.

"What I could do was keep my head on straight, keep working, because I knew that in a few weeks I was going to have another call up. So I could only keep focused, my head clear to keep working to have another opportunity. Then I waited for the moment to celebrate again."

The moment came on September 24 and it was accompanied by a special message from Raphinha's idol and family friend, Brazil legend Ronaldinho.

In the 1999 Copa America group stages, the former Barcelona man scored his first goal for Brazil, a wonder-goal at that, against Friday's opponents Venezuela, taking Cafu's pass, flicking the ball over the head of a defender, collecting on the other side and outpacing another before slamming a shot past keeper Renny Vega.

Raphinha, who was two years old at the time, would dearly love to emulate his hero.

"Ronaldo sent me a video, called my father and congratulated me," said Raphinha.

"I was happier than I already was. Receiving compliments from great people is very rewarding. If I can do half of what Ronaldo did in this game, it will be very important, very important for me."

Despite the best attempts of Italy, for whom Raphinha is also eligible and who contacted the Leeds man to try and coax him to opt for them, he was always going to hold out for Seleção.

"I was contacted, talked to Jorginho too, but it's very complicated to change the national team when you don't live there, it's not even that you don't feel at ease, but you are not part of it," he said.

"The Brazilian team has always been my goal, since I was little. Even with dual citizenship, my desire has always been to represent the national team. Even with contact, with conversations I had."

Now it's here, the reality of what he has finally achieved is slowly dawning on him.

It's a proud moment, but a nervous one too as he awaits his first minutes on the pitch in the famous colours of Brazil.

Only then will he settle into the status of a Brazilian international.

"It's a very happy moment in my career, in my life," he said.

"Not only do I represent Restinga, my family, my friends, but the entire community where I grew up, I lived until I was 16, who always supported me, in one way or another they always tried to help me stay focused on the right path . Don't shift focus to other things.

"Even though I'm here, the penny hasn't dropped yet. I talked to my parents earlier, I trained, I met players I was always a fan of, I rooted for them. And now I think it will only sink in after the debut, the first game. I believe it is a moment that mixes a lot of feelings, a lot of joy, a lot of happiness and nervousness on the positive side. But soon these butterflies in my stomach will pass."