When Richarlison signed for Tottenham, for the not-insubstantial fee of around £60m, I found myself in somewhat of a quandary. I had never been a fan of the Brazilian.
As a footballer, I felt he lacked subtlety in his build-up play and was profligate in front of goal. In terms of some of his other on-field antics, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes – along with every other non-Everton fan.
Indeed, when Cristian Romero scythed him down during our 5-1 demolition of the Toffees, I could not help but indulge in a slight smile. When Romero himself posted the picture of the event on Instagram following the game, I was positively gleeful.
However, once a player has signed for the club, you have no excuse but to get behind them and support them. The initial signs were erring towards positive.
He made an impact against Chelsea, in a game where the 2-2 scoreline flattered Tottenham in the extreme, and then scored two impressive headers against Marseilles in the Champions League.
But the concern was the language used around the performances. Words such as ‘menace’, ‘chaos’ and ‘disruptor’. Now there is a place for this in football, but not usually qualities central to a new mega-money purchase. Especially one who was brought in to complement a skilful and free slowing attacking three.
One of my issues with Richarlison as a player is that he always seemed to lack a ruthless edge in front of goal. Indeed, I was surprised to see his xG for the 2021/22 season for Everton was 10 goals for a 10xG (FOTMOB).
Obviously, a worldie could hide several poor misses in such data – but I’ll take it at face value. The season before yielded seven goals from 9.8xG (FOTMOB), which felt more in keeping with my general feeling.
However, he always seemed to be making something happen and at least getting into positions. At Tottenham he was full of running, but seemingly little else; there was little sense that he would make something happen. So, what was going wrong? Arguably there were several factors to consider.
Firstly, there’s the psychological angle. Tottenham, over the past decade or so, have been a bigger club than Everton and it would be normal to feel some sort of a need to prove oneself upon making the ‘step up’.
Judging by the sheer enthusiasm of his infrequently seen goals celebrations/ unnecessary yellow cards, Richarlison has felt the pressure and seems almost to be trying too hard.
Last autumn, he also had the additional pressure of maintaining his place in the Brazil national team for the World Cup, which would be harder given the limited playing time.
I assume that any hint of an ‘inferiority complex’ would be exacerbated by playing and training alongside someone as consistently excellent as Harry Kane.
In an illuminating interview, reported by the Mirror, former Spurs striker Vincent Janssen admitted feeling that he “struggled to cope with his presence” and that “It just wasn’t fun for (him) to be on the training ground with Harry and do finishing sessions.”
Now any average amateur player knows how it feels when a ringer shows up at your weekly seven-aside and quickly disperses your notions of your own abilities as a player. It is humbling.
Obviously, this theory is purely speculation, but having to ‘compete’ with a player, who is almost robotically brilliant could leave its mark.
Injuries also didn’t help him and led to the season becoming a bit stop-start – hamstring and calf injuries kept him out for 35 and 24 days (Transfermarkt) respectively.
Combine this with the fact he was not guaranteed a starting position when he was fit, 12 starts to 15 substitute appearances (Transfermarkt), shows how he was unable to build up consistency.
The previous season he had been the catalyst for Everton’s survival and was regarded by many to be the decisive factor in their escape. Yet again another potential reason for his overzealousness in trying to impress.
It came as little surprise when, earlier in July, Richarlison spoke to the Que Papinho podcast, talking about his rather fractious relationship with former boss Antonio Conte.
I don’t think it is fair to lay all the blame for this negative feeling solely at the feet of the Italian, but it is just another layer explaining why last season was unsuccessful for the Brazilian.
The question is what next for Richarlison? If the triumvirate of Kane, Son and Kulusevski remain at the club and stay fit, it seems unlikely that a starting position will come up for grabs, barring injury.
In addition, without European football, minutes will be even harder to come by, unless Ange is more open to rotating the likes of Son and Kane, something which has not been in vogue over the last few years.
Therefore, he will need to be managed better and kept motivated, even if it is from the sidelines. Hopefully, if he scores a couple early the pressure will ease and the narrative of, “1 Premier League goal in 27 appearances’ will begin to abate.
If Richarlison is able to adapt to the role of ‘squad player’ more effectively, then all is good, but if, as is perfectly reasonable, he wants to be a guaranteed starter he might need to look elsewhere.
However, given the length of his contract, the uncertainty over Kane and the need to find a suitable replacement, this option seems fanciful right now.
Hopefully for everyone, the Brazilian will settle down this season, relax, and find his ‘place’ in the Spurs squad.
If he manages to relax and play his natural game, in the more attacking style we expect from a Postacoglu side, he can, like a lot of us want to, forget last season and go on to forge the beginnings of a memorable Tottenham career.
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