Outgoing: Richarlison

Writing about Richarlison’s big-money move to Everton now, a week since news broke of an impending deal on Friday evening, seems almost outdated. Competitive football is still half a month away, and the young Brazilian has hardly had a chance to inspect the toilets at Finch Farm, but modern footballing guidelines state that transfers must be judged instantly, so that updates can be made to nutcase club reputations, inter-club feuds, AMF transfer fee rants and ‘banter era’ Twitter threads.

The truth is that this deal could go any number of ways, and it could be a few years before it can be definitively judged.

Depending on what source you’re using and whether you are trying to play up the fee to make Everton look stupid or play it down to make them look savvy, this deal is worth somewhere between £35 million and £50 million. In truth, the amount being BACSed into Watford’s non-HSBC account is probably closer to the former, while the final post-bonuses amount once Everton have won the Champions League and Richarlison has claimed the Ballon D’Or will be creeping up to the latter.

But regardless of the actual figure, the argument seems to stand that Everton have paid massively over the odds for a player who has performed at a high Premier League standard for perhaps two months, followed by a considerably longer period of missed open goals and otherwise non-descriptive performances. This feeling has been boosted by Everton’s, shall we say, misguided summer dealings last year and by the feverish need to push the Watford versus Everton agenda that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

This instant take is misguided for a number of reasons. For a start, who’s to say that the fee, wherever in that spectrum it lies, is excessive? The rate of inflation in football now is so rapid that no transfer window can be compared to the ones that went before them. Players that in 2015 might have been going for £5 million are now being sold for £25 million, players that might have fetched £15 million 12 months ago are being bandied around for over £50 million now.

The European football arms race, put on speed in England by the cash from television companies and oligarchs, is putting all value out of recognition. And, although the transfer window is only a couple of weeks from closing, because of the World Cup, few big name transfers have taken place so far, making getting a good idea of the market even harder.

But most of all, it may not be a bad deal because Richarlison could be very, very good.

He arrived at Watford in the summer of 2017 as just another prospect dug up by the Pozzos. Adalberto Penaranda hadn’t got up to much since in Spain being picked up and loaned out, Isaac Success had been even more disappointing, though that might just have been the Bailey’s. And how many young Brazilians actually make an impact on English football? Watford had invested a significant sum to bring him to Vicarage Road, but expectations were not particularly high.

Then, fresh off the plane, with one training session with the side in the bag, he was thrust into action in the season opener against Liverpool and was just great.

Coming on as a 49th minute sub, he turned the common image of a barely 20-year-old Brazilian winger on its head. He had footwork and pace, but the thing that set him apart was his strength and his leap, flying through the air to beat towering defenders to the most inconsequential of knock-ons. He didn’t know the team, had probably never heard of the club, and was coming off over thirty games for Fluminese since February, but was willing to put his body on the line to win any ball.

In the 93rd minute he stretched to block a clearance from a last-ditch corner, looked up and drove the ball at goal, eventually resulting in a Miguel Britos equaliser. From that moment, until the very end of March he was a regular fixture in the starting lineup.

Look at that. Richarlison’s first start in English football. Genuinely two-footed, involved in everything, beating ugly Bournemouth defenders in the air, bringing the ball down on his chest, sending Adam Smith to fetch the feijoada and then a few minutes later turning him into Christ the Redeemer. His goal, the first of five for the club, was not the goal of a Brazilian wonderkid. It was the bundled finish of an old-school English centre forward.

His drive to impress and make an impact meant that he needed treatment for knocks to the head in several of his first games for the club. But that uncommon aerial presence and determination did not stop him from wowing on the ground.

That Bournemouth form continued for two glorious months, but was not to last. His energy faded, and while some attributed this to his head being turned by the outgoing Marco Silva, it surely had something to do with the fact that by the end of 2017 he had played in 44 games in the previous 10 months — the vast majority of them 90 minutes — with no break longer than the week and a half between his last for Fluminese and that Liverpool game.

Given the months of tired looking performances as the rest of the side also faded into nothingness last season it is perhaps easy to forget how exciting Richarlison was. By the end of September he was already being linked with moves to the biggest clubs in the land for figures similar to that Everton have shelled out. When he was on it, he was the complete attacker, capable of anything.

Another explanation for his downturn in form could be that the experienced defenders and coaches of the Premier League figured out his bag of tricks. They started to double down and the instances of right backs being left on their arses dwindled. This is a barrier that separates the good players from the great ones, working out how to evolve to stay ahead of your opposition, and it’s something that Richarlison will need to do to justify Everton’s financial confidence in him.

I wrote last week about how the visual nature of Instagram is giving us glimpses into the real lives of footballers unprecedented in the modern age, and to delve into Richarlison’s is to see that despite years of upward trajectory, three moves to ever-bigger clubs and now over £60 million-worth of transfer fees, he is still a very young man. This fee is not paying for the player he is now, but the one he might grow into.

Watford could not reject this offer. They lost too much by rejecting offers for Odion Ighalo for too long. Accepting a profit of maybe £30 million for only a year’s work on a player with ready-made replacements in the squad is a no-brainer. The club is hardly swimming in disposable income, and this bonus will add a little to the ‘For God’s Sake We Need A Bloody Striker and Centre Back’ fund and pay off some debts.

Depending on how the next couple of years go, however, Everton’s side of the deal could turn out to be the latest in a string of terrible purchases or, and I suspect this might be the case, a clever move to grab a superstar before their stock rises too highly and the transfer market takes another bump into the stratosphere.

Whisper it quietly, but despite being a guy who downed tools three months into a job, blinded by the prospect of fighting for 7th place in the Premier League every year, Marco Silva knows what he’s doing when it comes to coaching. He is the man who got the best out of Richarlison, and is the man who believes he can take him to new levels.

I hope he can.

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