Ahead of Watford’s match against Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, Richarlison, the young sensation at Vicarage Road who was acquitted from Fluminense earlier in the summer transfer window, was interviewed. While the Brazilian was already making the headlines with his excellent form on the field for Watford, there was more to break out about Richarlison and how his life back in Brazil was.
When asked if he was fazed at the prospect of facing the defending champions at their home ground, Richarlison told The Telegraph, ‘I remember when I was growing up in Brazil, a guy once pointed a gun at my face because he thought I was a drug dealer trying to steal his distribution point. That was my life. After that, playing Chelsea seems much easier!’
This created quite a stir among the footballing world as Richarlison opened up about his life in Brazil and how he has made it to the stage where he finds himself right now.
Nova Venecia is a small town in Brazil in the state of Espirito Santo. Richarlison grew up in the district where his family have been living for generations now. The upbringing of Richarlison has had a huge influence on him, understandably so. Growing up in not the friendliest of environments, his mentality is spot on and has an air about him that he has hit it within him to face any obstacle head on. In matches where he has not been at the top of game, one can visibly notice that he does not give up. For a 20-year-old who started playing professional football only at the age of 17 when America Mineiro picked him up, Richarlison has an unwavering swagger about his play that you cannot come across that very easily, not even in established stars, let alone youngsters.
When Watford faced Manchester United at Vicarage Road a few weeks back, Victor Lindelof succeeded in subduing him successfully during the match. Time and again after an unsuccessful attempt at a dribble or pass, Richarlison simply did not give up and kept coming at the United backline. He was a major influence in Watford’s mini-revival in the second half against Jose Mourinho’s side and was a tad unlucky to not get more out of the match for his efforts.
Richarlison never had it easy during his days in his hometown. Brazil features in the top 20 countries having the highest homicide rates. Non-violent crimes are prevalent in the country too with drug trafficking being prominent in and around all the cities. It is not uncommon for children below the age of 18 to be involved in such crimes and Richarlison has had a hard time in overcoming all this. Having seen his friends get involved in selling drugs and seeing money, and a lot of it mind you, it must have taken a tremendous amount of courage and willpower for a young boy to not get involved in it. Instead, selling ice creams and chocolates took the forefront providing the young boy with pocket money, from whatever he could make out of it. It was at such a time, when Richarlison was with his friends playing football in the streets, at the age of 14, that he was confronted by a local drug dealer with a gun pointed right at his head, threatening to shoot the young lad thinking that he was there to sabotage the dealer’s business in the area, mistaking him for someone else.
The coaches Richarlison had early in his career helped him set his sights properly on the bigger picture and ensure that he did not go down the wrong route in crime. His family played a big part in molding his character and Richarlison could easily fend off any taunt from his friends to join them in helping sell drugs.
Having experienced modest upbringing, Richarlison bought his first pair of boots after signing his first official contract at the age of 17 for America Mineiro. ‘It was because I signed my official contract and I could buy my first official boots,’ he says. ‘Before I used to play with just whatever I found, one boot off one guy and one boot from another!’
In June 2015, he enjoyed his first real reward of his professional footballing life when manager Givanildo Oliviera promoted him to the first-team squad. His performances made top-flight club Fluminese take notice within six months of breaking into the first team at America, he signed for Fluminense in December of the same year.
This move to Mineiro was not straightforward in the least as he was met by initial attempts of failure when he got rejected by Avai and Figueirense, when he was on trial there, a year before he was taken by America MG. While it was hard to take it in for that 16-year-old, everyone else who had seen him play were convinced of his ability and ensured that his head did not drop too low. It is probably here that Richarlison was determined enough to show that he was made up of much more and rightly so, a year on, he had a club that have him his first contract of his footballing life.
Fast forward to six months later..
It was June 2016 as fierce rivals Flamengo and Fluminese clashed in the Serie A. Flamengo were better placed in the table and firm favourites for the match with their better start to the league campaign. Flamengo expected dominated the match, but they could not have done anything about the goals that were scored. Richarlison did not start the match and was on the bench. The match seemed to be in Tricolor’s favour only for defender Rafael Vaz to under-hit a back pass to his goalkeeper. Richarlison, with the instincts of a killer, pounced on the ball and rounded the keeper to slot in the goal that won the game for Fluminese. The teenager seemed to be carrying an aura about him that was determined to show the world how good he was, having made it to this stage through sheer hard work.
The footballing world did take notice with a number of scouts from reputed European clubs showing up at games to watch the starlet play. Chelsea were rumoured to be interested in RIcharlison and were courting him but a move never materialized as chief scout Piet de Visser did not seem to give the green light for the move. Ajax, with their abundance in youth and potency in identifying them, clearly saw the Brazilian’s potential and almost signed him until Marco Silva intervened to talk to Richarlison. Silva being Portuguese, was able to talk him into rejecting Ajax in favour of signing for Watford, with the manager’s ability to converse in Portuguese proving to be a key factor in this.
For someone whose career has steadily been on the rise after having started to play football, it must be quite some task to get your head straight and move abroad for a playing career, if you end growing up conservatively in your hometown in Brazil. Almost everyone who plays for the Brazilian national squad plays in Europe with the likes of Lucas Lima being the exception in this regard. It is almost a widely accepted prerequisite that the way to shoot to stardom and rise in football is to play well in Brazil and ensure that you catch the eyes of the watchful scouts attending the game; scouts who are regular attendees even more so than the fans themselves in these games.
Neymar is a classic case of how young Brazilian starlets are making it big in Europe, shining above the rest in Brazil to earn your move to a club in Europe- the bigger the better, with teenage sensation Vinicius Junior becoming the latest to tread down this path.
On moving to Watford for a fee of 11 million pounds, which now looks to be a steal looking at the way the Brazilian has played. Marco Silva decided that the raucous atmosphere at the Anfield on a season opener might be too much to handle for the 20-year-old and decided to not start him for the match. The result that day was an indicator for things to come for Watford this season, with Watford drawing 3-3 in the dying moments of the match, as they have been one of the most impressive teams so far in the Premier League. Richarlison started the next week against Bournemouth at Vicarage Road and scored on his first start for the Hornets.
Fast forward three months’ time..
Richarlison has started every match since for Watford in the league and has scored five goals, assisting a further three. He has been the go to player for the men in yellow. Watford have played some vibrant football under Silva thus far in the season and it is of no surprise that Richarlison has been the standout performer for them.
Richarlison’s style of play exemplifies the typical Brazilian flair that is expected from a winger coming from the land of Samba. His agility and technique sets him apart while he also displays shades of immaturity in his decision making in the final third. All that can be improved in his game with the Brazilian showing that he is ready to learn and improve, something that is vital for a player his age.
Despite this being his first season away from Brazil, and quite far away from it too, Richarlison has not become homesick, with the Brazilian contingent in the Premier League helping the youngster feel at home so far. Willian and David Luiz in particular have helped him out well, a good friendship ensuing.
Right now, his focus must be to keep improving and continue his fine form for Watford throughout the season. The World Cup is beckoning next year and although Richarlison is yet to feature for the senior squad, one can always dare to dream high and big. There is tight competition for places in the squad with the likes of Neymar, Coutinho, Firmino and Gabriel Jesus being the prime contenders for the spot in the starting eleven. Another Brazilian starlet, Malcolm, is having a great season himself for Bordeaux and Richarlison must keep on improving in order to even stand a chance of making the final squad. While not featuring in the national team squad next year would in no way be a failure, it is a slight possibility if there happens to be any untimely injuries or if his run of form is just too good to be ignored by Head Coach Tite.
Richarlison’s story from his days back in Nova Venecia to where he is now is a great example of a determined youngster fighting against the odds to make it big in his career. While there is so much more to come from the Brazilian and bigger stages to be conquered, it is by no means a stretch to say that he has started off on the right path. The fact that there are rumours circulating already that clubs like Spurs and Chelsea are interested in signing the Brazilian speaks to his enormous ability and potential. Richarlison has well and truly arrived at the Premier League and only time will tell whether he will be making a move to a ‘bigger’ club, going on ascension and not ceasing. One can rest assured saying that his tale of determination thus far has been heart-warming and I, for one, genuinely wish that he can go on to achieve more in his career.