Leeds United's Raphinha situation explained as Brazil versus Premier League row rumbles

It should have been one of the biggest weeks in the life of Leeds United winger Raphinha.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:58 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd September 2021, 5:00 pm
LEAGUE VERSUS COUNTRY - Leeds United winger Raphinha is one of the victims of a situation arising from the UK government's red list Covid-19 rules. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

A game against Chile, in the colours he has always dreamed of wearing, a Sunday meeting with Argentina at Neo Química Arena in São Paulo and then Peru, at home, on Friday.

For a Leeds player to be involved, even on the bench, in a contest headlined by Paris Saint-Germain's new boy Lionel Messi and his club-mate Neymar, would have been quite a thing for the Whites and their 24-year-old winger.

Playing in the Premier League like his hero Thierry Henry was one of his dreams, as he grew up a football-obsessed youngster in Restinga. Playing for Brazil like his idol Ronaldinho was another.

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"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," he said earlier this year.

And when the call from Tite finally came midway through August, it looked for all the world that living out his Premier League dream at Elland Road had helped make his Brazil dream come true too.

Leeds celebrated his selection for the trio of September internationals, although the likelihood was that he would have to miss the clash with Liverpool on Sunday, 12 September.

But a row that isn't so much club against country but league against country meant the 1-0 win over Chile in the early hours of Friday morning went ahead without Raphinha. So too will the games against Argentina and Peru.

Furthermore, if Brazil get their way, he won't even play against Liverpool.

The crux of the matter is the almost division-wide pact, agreed by 19 of the 20 Premier League clubs - Burnley the only outfit not be affected - to withhold international stars whose call ups would take them to red list countries.

Current UK government guidelines state that anyone entering England having spent time in a red list country over the previous 10 days, must isolate for 10 full days in a managed quarantine hotel, meaning players would not only miss two Premier League games but a raft of training sessions.

Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur then broke the pact, allowing their respective pairs of Argentine internationals to join up with their national team, which no doubt infuriated Sunday's opponents Brazil given the absence of Liverpool's Alisson, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Manchester City pair Ederson and Gabriel Jesus, Chelsea defender Thiago Silva, Manchester United's Fred, Richarlison of Everton and Raphinha.

Noises now emanating from the Brazilian Football Confederation [CBF] suggest they will take a stand against five of the six Premier League clubs by asking FIFA to intervene and invoke a five-day ban for players who have not appeared for duty. Everton, the Daily Mail reports, came to an understanding over Richarlison and will escape the wrath of the CBF.

On Friday Leeds would only say there was no change to the situation regarding Raphinha, so the Premier League clubs are now likely to face a choice of sitting their players out for the five-day period, playing them and accepting a sanction or going into battle with FIFA.

It may be that they attempt to appeal any punishment on the basis of player welfare issues and the UK government's latest advice that red list countries should not be travelled to 'except in the most extreme of circumstances.'

Given the company Leeds find themselves in on this issue, they may feel there is some safety in numbers, yet earlier this week the Court of Arbitration for Sport found against La Liga and ruled in favour of FIFA, forcing clubs to release players for the South American World Cup qualifiers.

But what of Raphinha?

Thiago Silva took to Instagram to depict his angst, but Leeds' winger has kept his counsel on what is a delicate situation for all involved. Leeds sympathise with his predicament and will be keen to keep him happy, given his importance to Marcelo Bielsa's side, but for all Bielsa's insistence that future opportunities will arise, this must be a frustrating, upsetting episode for the player.

Raphinha, at least, can take heart that his feelings are known to Tite, which should limit the damage to his international prospects.

"It is an institutional matter," said the Brazil boss.

"Of course I wanted to have them here, and I know that they wanted to be here as well. I spoke to them. It is an information I'm giving you. They wanted to be here."

What of the next round of international games in October however? The November fixtures? Or the ones in January, February and March?

This situation is going nowhere, until such a time as the government advice changes, the Premier League clubs relent and lose their players for a number of games or Brazil admit defeat, costing Raphinha even more potential caps. Only the first of those routes to a resolution can be seen as a victory for anyone.