Brazil head coach Tite admitted his surprise when his technical experts recommended a closer look at Raphinha.
The winger was performing with style in his first season at Leeds but the world is scattered with brilliant Brazilian footballers and it is impossible to be across them all as form flickers and fades.
‘I said, “There’s a lot of things to see here and you’re going to bring me Raphinha?”,’ Tite recalled recently on the Podpah podcast.
Raphinha appears to be this summer’s hottest property as clubs battle for his signature
Brazil boss Tite has admitted to being surprised by Raphinha when he first called him up
‘Then we followed up on his games and had conversations with (ex-Leeds boss) Marcelo Bielsa and previous coaches at his clubs. Raphinha was a surprise to me.’
He is a surprise no more. Raphinha has been a regular in Tite’s squad for a year, a certainty for the World Cup if fit and one of the hottest properties in the summer transfer market.
The feeling in May, as he made a lingering farewell to Elland Road, was that he was destined for Barcelona, a natural replacement for Ousmane Dembele, who was at the end of his contract and heading for the Nou Camp exit.
There had been a feeling in May that Raphinha was destined for Barcelona but that’s gone cold
Raphinha is represented by Deco, the former Barcelona and Portugal midfield idol who retains strong links at his former club and was pictured this week with Barca’s newly re-elected president Joan Laporta.
Laporta was in charge when Deco signed in 2004 but Barcelona remain mired in financial problems and, earlier this week, former director Toni Freixa accused the new regime of ‘selling smoke’ to supporters with the fanciful pursuit of star players such as Raphinha, Bernardo Silva and Robert Lewandowski.
Raphinha would prefer a move to Barcelona but also favours a swift conclusion, rather than extended uncertainty, and the delay has encouraged three Premier League clubs to try to steal the initiative.
Barcelona’s continuing financial woes mean Raphinha’s move to the Nou Camp is not as certain as it once was
Arsenal, with their strong Brazilian connections, have a long-standing interest and are thought to have made an opening bid well short of the £65million asking price for a player Leeds signed two years ago for £17m from Rennes. Tottenham have made enquiries and Chelsea are also serious about putting together an offer.
The reasons are clear enough. Raphinha is accustomed to the English game, with all the attributes to suit a modern, high-intensity Premier League team.
He has explosive pace, with the ability to go past opponents and threaten the goal from open play and set-pieces.
There is fire in his game. He hails from the same district of Porto Alegre as Ronaldinho although, unlike him, played for six years in the varzea, Brazil’s unregulated network of community-run amateur leagues.
Despite missing out on the Champions League, Arsenal remain ambitious in their transfer plans this summer
‘It really is the Wild West,’ said Raphinha in an interview with The Players’ Tribune last year. ‘Any player can just turn up. You don’t even need a contract. You play on clay, burning heat, dust and sand.
‘Someone will bring a ball from home. Often there are no nets, just posts. Bibs? Forget about it. One team just plays shirtless. And these players are the rejects. They play with anger. They play to survive. They play like their lives depend on it. You would often see the bosses in the community stand around the pitch with guns. You could be about to score when a random gunshot would go off. I always say if you can play in the varzea games you can play anywhere.’
Avai were his first pro club, where he became close friends with Arsenal centre back Gabriel Magalhaes, before three years in Portugal with Vitoria Guimaraes and Sporting Lisbon and a year in France at Rennes.
Diogo Fernandes, a former coach of Raphinha’s, said he was the most talented player he coached
‘The most talented player I coached,’ recalls Diogo Fernandes, a coach at Avai. ‘A bit hot-headed because of his varzea days with a great work ethic, always wanting to win. Also, very funny. There was something about him that made us think he would be a great footballer. I’m glad we were right.’
Bielsa, a demanding taskmaster, tapped into this tireless work ethic and desire during Raphinha’s first campaign at Elland Road, although there was a feeling last season that the Brazilian had his head turned by praise and speculation and started to coast.
He was benched against Manchester United in February but was on at half-time and ended the campaign with 11 goals, more than the previous year, including a penalty to give Leeds the lead in their dramatic last-day survival win at Brentford.
At 25, he is good for at least five years and will still have sell-on value, an insurance of sorts for clubs planning to bid.
There is nothing quite like an auction to drive up the price and wherever he ends up Leeds can expect to smash their record fee received, £30m from Manchester United for Rio Ferdinand in 2002.
Raphinha looks set to smash Leeds United’s previous transfer record this summer – £30m for Rio Ferdinand in 2002 to Manchester United