Raphinha’s Impact and can Leeds Keep Him?

Raphinha

12 months after Leeds United signed the star from Rennes, Raphinha received his first Brazil cap. He came onto the pitch at 1-0 down, provided two goals and played a huge part in the play which won the penalty for a third. There has been a huge focus on Raphinha and his stand-out performances at Elland Road over the past year, attracting interest from the likes of Liverpool and Barcelona. Raphinha was a crucial piece in the jigsaw of Leeds’ return to the Premier League. The question is now: Can Leeds keep hold of Raphinha?

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Raphinha was a must-sign for Leeds, with Hélder Costa not looking up to the task and Ian Poveda being some way off the required level in 2020. There were no big transfer leaks. However, according to Phil Hay of the Athletic, he was on Leeds’ radar for the entire window. Leeds aren’t in the business of making rash transfer decisions, and only moved for Raphinha when Rennes said he was available at a cut-price on deadline day.

His first appearance was off the bench, in a 3-0 hammering of Aston Villa in which Patrick Bamford scored his first Premier League hattrick. Pablo Hernandez at this stage looks like his legs aren’t up to the Premier League, despite the vision and passing clearly still being there. Raphinha’s first action? A lovely 50-yard defence-splitting ball through to Jack Harrison. Leeds fans were immediately calling for him to be brought into the team. The die was cast for Hélder Costa after a disaster class against Crystal Palace, in which he missed several good chances and scored a freak own goal. Raphinha started thereafter.

Raphinha’s first start came in a 0-0 draw against Arsenal which Leeds dominated, but a 10-man Arsenal kept enough men behind the ball to keep Leeds out. Raphinha’s second start came against Everton. He scored the winner in a 1-0 win. A lovely 20-yard low drive:

And this was a sign of things to come. He provided brilliant goals and assists that could thread a needle all season. Along with his insanely exciting skillset. For your entertainment, I have included his wonderful ending of Gary Cahill’s career in a 2-0 win against Palace at Elland Road:

On top of this, Raphinha’s defensive work rate has been noted strongly by Bielsa. Not many players with his skill, talent and flare also get stuck into the defensive business. Raphinha is extremely unique in this regard. He is in the top 15% of positional peers for blocks and interceptions, and the top 10% for clearances per 90.

Now, the issue for Leeds. They are not a club that can bankroll huge contracts and transfers. Leeds United Chairman Andrea Radrizzani has said the club are emulating Leicester’s model of buying low and selling high. Raphinha was a steal at £17 million, and Leeds could easily make themselves a £30-40 million profit on him. Fbref compare his statistics and playstyle to that of Bruno Fernandes, Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and even Gareth Bale. All big-name, world-class players. Raphinha’s desire to progress obviously feeds into the valuation. Leeds are not a top-level Champions League club that can demand huge numbers. If an offer comes in from a club like Barcelona or Liverpool, Leeds aren’t really in a position to say “no”. It is a case of finding an agreeable valuation.

As a Leeds United fan, I want nothing more than Raphinha to sign a bumper 5-year deal to keep him at Elland Road. If we do get him to sign a new deal, brilliant! Discount everything I am about to touch on below. However, unless Leeds qualify for Europe this season, which is looking like a near impossibility at this stage, a sale will be happening. It will also probably happen in the 2022 summer transfer window. With many players, such as a prime example in Patrick Bamford, you can expect a drop-off in form which will deter transfer interest. However, natural talent and mentality is something that will never disappear, so you can expect the interest in Raphinha to remain strong.

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I, like many, think anything short of £50 million for Raphinha in the 2022 summer window is unacceptable. Raphinha will have two years left on his deal with Leeds at this stage. This is, in theory, the best time to sell a player if you want to get their true value. Any later and clubs can drive the price down as the free transfer window gets closer. The bar has been set. Sancho, who has done next to nothing since moving to Manchester, was bought for over £70 million. Richarlison for £50 million.

That £50 million could be sensibly invested by Leeds. With heavy competitions on the wings and Crycensio Summerville edging ever closer to first-team action, Leeds could invest this in the hybrid number 8/10 midfielder which Bielsa needs for his system. A Premier League-level Mateusz Klich. The midfield at Leeds is extremely shallow in terms of depth. Rodrigo has cameoed in this role but is clearly more comfortable as the striker / false 9 in Bielsa’s system. Tyler Roberts has played there and never produces. With Daniel James and Jack Harrison both on long deals at the club, the next priority for Leeds would be a player to take on the creative output of Raphinha, but in the centre of the park. They could even look at another young, up-and-coming winger if there is some cash left.

It is an unfortunate part of football. The bigger, richer clubs will always take players from those less well-off. However, it offers the opportunity to repeat the process, and fund your club that way. It is a sustainable way to run a club, which has always been a priority for the Leeds board since Radrizzani bought the club.

Header Image Credit: Leeds United Twitter @LUFC

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