In summer, few teams have significant money, so much quality is available at the right price. A special player must find himself in the middle of a transfer tug of war.
The majority of Europe is still treating its financial wounds from the coronavirus. Almost everybody is for sale for the right price. Even in the Premier League, teams are cautiously scrutinising their financial sheets. Those with money to spend will be spoilt for choice in this market. So, why is it that everyone seems to desire the same player?
Chelsea is still in charge of Raphinha’s services at the time of writing. With Arsenal preparing for hard discussions with Leeds, the Blues comes in with a £55 million offer that the Yorkshire club accepted. The Gunners have yet to face defeat ultimately. Still, CBS Sports reports that no new talks have taken place between Arsenal and Leeds since Chelsea’s bid was approved. Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge, new chairman Todd Boehly is keen to close the deal as soon as possible, not least because the spectre of Barcelona hangs over discussions.
According to sources close to the Brazilian, he preferred a move to the Nou Camp above all else. He constantly desired to wear a Barcelona shirt. The club’s executives met with his agent Deco on Wednesday in an attempt to wrest Raphinha away from Chelsea. The Catalans’ current inability to fund the transaction desired by Leeds was a major stumbling block. Joan Laporta aimed to free up funds by selling shares in the family company to meet his club’s unquenchable thirst for new signings. What could wiser management be than selling shares in the club’s licensing and media rights companies to acquire Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha?
Tottenham keeps an eye on the issue from afar, but it will not enter the conflict. Liverpool had also conducted extensive research on the 25-year-old. Two London powerhouses, a Spanish superclub, and a slew of additional interested parties amongst Europe’s wealthiest clubs must be a rare talent.
Raphinha had moments in the Premier League. He lit up, from the fizzing low drive with which he opened his account in England to the penalty earned and converted in the critical seconds against Brentford. It kept Leeds in the Premier League, likely his last contribution to the squad. When he’s in form, there aren’t many more exciting players to watch in the English game. His displays were full of feather-light touches, an explosive burst to go past defenders, and the deepest of bags to humiliate defenders.
Despite being a left-footer on the right, he plays like a conventional winger, attacking a full back and pushing down the touchline. He’s the sort of footballer that English fans admire, especially given his outstanding work rate off the ball. In this aspect, they are not alone. Jesse Marsch looked smitten whenever he talked about his star player, describing Raphinha as “a great talent” and a “very lovely person.”
Raphinha excelled in those winger abilities. He tried five take-ons per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season. Furthermore, he succeeded at a high volume (40 per cent), the former ranking amongst the top ten in the Premier League. He was well at moving the ball into the penalty area, completing little less than two passes per game that finished in the box and receiving one and a half.
Raphinha profiles as a guy who is strong at bringing the ball up the pitch but might be a lot better at applying the lethal touch based on last season. That may sound odd for a guy who finished the season with 11 goals, but subtract two penalties and has nine goals and three assists from over 3,000 minutes of Premier League game. Similarly, his anticipated goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) are not spectacular. At 0.46 non-penalty xG+xA per 90 minutes, he ranks 141st amongst Europe’s top five leagues, according to fbref’s model.
Opta also ranks him in the high middle tier of Premier League rankings. What is remarkable is who is ahead of him. Bukayo Saka, Hakim Ziyech, and Gabriel Martinelli are amongst those who average approximately 0.5 non-penalty xG+xA per 90 minutes. Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, who Chelsea are attempting to bring to Stamford Bridge with Raphinha, are far further forward.
Of course, there is an apparent answer to why the Leeds forward’s underlying numbers aren’t exactly on pace with equivalents at Arsenal, Chelsea, and the other big six clubs. One of these players is fighting relegation, playing on a club that averaged 52 per cent possession rather than 60 per cent and was plagued by injuries.
Others were on teams that won more than 20 league games. Raphinha was the attacking hub for his team in a manner that Ziyech, Martinelli, or Sterling were not for theirs and possibly Saka and Mount as well. Still, he was bearing a significant weight on a side whose identity was changing under Marcelo Bielsa. In other words, he achieved his results in an unfavourable environment. Others, though, did not.
Raphinha is being targeted as competition, possibly as a first reserve rather than a sure starter, rather than to unseat the Sakas, Mounts, and Dejan Kulusevskis of the big six. After all, there are many similarly performing strikers across Europe. All of whom would be available for substantially less than the sum that Leeds can expect for their finest player in the Premier League. Arnaut Danjuma, Domenico Berardi, and Moussa Diaby all had outstanding seasons that combined Danjuma’s ball development with far higher underlying stats for goal contributions.
The gap between these players and Raphinha is obvious, at least for Premier League teams. They have been burnt by players like Pepe and Romelu Lukaku. They have struggled to adapt their success in other top European leagues to the English game. This summer, Arsenal and Chelsea have demonstrated a willingness to go above and above for recognised commodities Gabriel Jesus and Sterling.
That is how one justifies spending perhaps twice the price for Raphinha compared to a European counterpart. It’s better to invest £55 million for a player whose influence can be predicted than to take a chance on an unknown quantity.