'More of that' - what Leeds United dressing room needs from Raphinha amid Barcelona noise

Leeds United hero Tony Dorigo writes exclusively for the Yorkshire Evening Post and this week's column focuses on Raphinha, Barcelona's interest and a huge game against Southampton.

By Tony Dorigo
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 4:39 am

Transfer speculation is part of the game, everyone understands that, and Barcelona’s interest in Raphinha is just the latest example.

Often, how much speculation there is over a club’s players depends where the club is in their progression. If you’re at the top of the league and trying to win titles, everyone wants to be there and do that, so stories about potential moves don’t come into it. When you’re not, if you’re down near the bottom, these things are bound to happen. For some players it can be unsettling, regardless of whether you’re the one being moved on or the one that’s staying. These things put question marks in minds. What’s important to understand is that it’s always about the collective. The better the collective does, the better it looks on you as an individual. I’ve seen teams disintegrate, I’ve been part of them myself, when players start to think about themselves and it’s a dangerous thing. I’ve seen it, I’ve been relegated, it’s not how you get out of these things, everyone has to do exactly their best to help the team stay up and, whatever happens after that, we all understand it’s football.

I remember a story about me and Glasgow Rangers, when I was at Chelsea. There was truth in it. Graeme Souness was manager at Ibrox and there was a midfielder called Derek Ferguson who Chelsea wanted. Souness wanted me to go the other way. The clubs were haggling for a little while and there was a lot of that going on in the background. It’s difficult for a player to put it in the background sometimes but, until your club accepts an offer, you have a choice to make because, obviously, you can stay or go. A lot of things have to go on before you get to that point, but the thing that always helps in every situation is to keep on playing your best no matter what, as often as you can.

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It can come up in the dressing room. As players, we can all say we ignore the press and we don’t read the speculation, but you do, of course you read it. How much credence you give it is another matter, that’s up to you. If it keeps appearing, you start to think there’s something there. Everyone wants to know their team-mate is 100 per cent committed and going in the same direction as them. You can still do that and things still happen, players still move, but you have to be 100 per cent professional. Your team-mates expect that. Nothing ever works if that’s not there.

There’s no doubt Raphinha hasn’t been at his very best, although against Norwich City he was obviously better. There was a period where, knowing the amount of talent he’s got and how he performed in the first half of the season, he was below par with one assist in about eight games. We expect a bit more from him. It’s difficult as well because I was one of those looking at him being so animated, with his heart on his sleeve, showing so much disappointment, and getting frustrated. People make accusations of laziness but I don’t think that’s right; he works very hard. I’m not sure it was so natural, under Marcelo Bielsa, when he was tasked with chasing the full-back all the way to the right-back position. He was doing it because he had to, but it’s not something he wants to be doing naturally, which is normal for wingers and strikers. The work-rate has been there, but the emotional displays can be a bit frustrating because we think he needs to be doing what he can do in the final third and he wasn’t at times. A lot of players were very frustrated at that time yet you could always see it outwardly from him and that raised question marks.

What we do know is that when he’s on fire he’s an absolute game-changer - we saw that against Norwich when he showed so much composure to go round the keeper and roll it back across for Joe Gelhardt to score. We want to see more of that. I see passion in him and I’m sure he wants to do well for Leeds, while he’s here.

As for the club and their plans, if it’s the Leicester City model they want to follow then selling a player will be part of it. Leicester tend to sell one player for lots of money but the way they reinvest helps them to make that model look good. Buying Raphinha for £17m already makes him good business for Leeds and they don’t all work out like he has.

EMOTIONAL DISPLAY - Leeds United's Raphinha has worn his heart on his sleeve during difficult periods this season. Pic: Getty

What’s important, when he leaves, is that it’s done on the club’s terms. That’s the when and the how much, if Leeds do decide that selling is the best option for them. Then comes the reinvestment, which will be needed. There’s no doubt, looking at the squad we’ve got, the numbers we’ve got, there’s a rebuild to be done in the summer. We need to bring in more bodies, that’s obvious.

The Wolves game might have brought fresh headaches on the injury front but, long after full-time, I saw a sight for sore eyes. I was with LUTV waiting for Jesse Marsch to finish all his interviews and come to speak to us. Out on the pitch were Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper, sprinting up and down to try and get some more fitness in their legs. That was a couple of weeks ago so they will be that much closer to a return now. I think they’ll be back this weekend for Southampton and, hopefully, we can see a fair few minutes for both because it will give everyone a lift, the crowd, their team-mates and themselves too. They must be itching to get out and help after what has been a difficult time. Those two wins will have bred a lot of confidence and they will want in on that.

I look at this game in a similar way to the one against Newcastle in that, at that point in the season, if had beaten them at home, we would have created a real buffer between us and the drop zone and looked fine. It’s similar now. If we can beat Southampton, that buffer becomes that much bigger and the tension you play under lessens. Newcastle were fighting for their lives; Southampton are slightly different but they’re more than a decent side as their position shows.

It’s another huge game but, at home, it’s one we can win. No doubt everyone understands the enormity of it.