In a summer where so few clubs have big money and so much talent is available at the right price, it must surely take a remarkable player to find themselves at the center of a transfer tug of war.
Most of Europe is still nursing the financial wounds of coronavirus. For the right price, almost anyone is for sale. Even in the Premier League, there are clubs looking nervously at their balance sheets. Want the best and the brightest that Everton have? Get your bids in before June 30 and they could be yours.
For those with cash to burn, this is a market where you are spoiled for choice. So why does everyone seem to want the same player?
At the time of writing, Chelsea remain in the driving seat for Raphinha’s services. With Arsenal ready to hunker down for arduous talks with Leeds (as they themselves search, so far in vain, for someone to take Nicolas Pepe off their hands), the Blues swooped in with a £55 million offer that the Yorkshire side deemed acceptable. The Gunners are yet to concede defeat entirely, but CBS Sports understands that there has been no fresh dialogue between Arsenal and Leeds since Chelsea’s offer was accepted. Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge, , not least as the specter of Barcelona looms over negotiations.
Sources close to the Brazilian say that he would favor a move to the Nou Camp above all else, that he has long had his heart set on donning a Barcelona shirt. The club hierarchy met with his agent Deco on Wednesday in an attempt to snatch Raphinha. The fly in the ointment for the Catalans is their complete lack of any current means to finance the deal Leeds want. Joan Laporta is attempting to use financial “levers” to free up cash, selling off shares in the family silver to fulfil his club’s prodigious appetite for new signings. Truly what could be shrewder management than selling off stakes in the club’s licensing and media rights businesses so as to acquire Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha? I digress.
As for the Brazilian, Tottenham have been monitoring the situation from afar, though it would appear that they will not enter the fray. Liverpool had also done their due diligence on the 25-year-old.
Two London giants in a bidding war, a Spanish super club scrabbling together cash to enter the fray and plenty of other intrigued observers among Europe’s wealthiest clubs. This must be quite the talent.
Well, yes and no. Since his arrival from Nice in 2020, Raphinha has had occasions where he has lit up the Premier League, from the fizzing low drive with which he opened his account in England to the penalty won and converted in the clutch moments against Brentford that kept Leeds in the Premier League, probably his last contribution for the team. When he is on song, there are few more invigorating players to watch in the English game, with his performances full of feather light touches, an explosive burst to take him past defenders and the deepest of bags with which to humiliate defenders.
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Even though he is a left-footer stationed on the right, he is something of a classic winger, attacking a full back and driving down the touchline. He’s the type of footballer that English fans in particular adore, all the more so for his impressive work rate off the ball. They are not alone in that regard. Any time Jesse Marsch discussed his star player, he seemed enamoured, labeling Raphinha “a massive talent” and a “really good person.”
In analytical terms, it is in those winger skills where Raphinha excels, attempting five take-ons per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season and succeeding at relatively high volume (40 percent), the former number among the top 10 in the Premier League. He was relatively effective at getting the ball into the penalty area, completing just under two passes per game that ended in the box and receiving one and a half.
Based on last season, Raphinha profiles as a player who is good at getting the ball up the pitch but could be a fair bit better at actually applying the killer touch. That might seem perverse for a player who ended the season with 11 goals, but strip out two penalties and you end up with a return of nine goals and three assists from nearly 3,000 minutes of Premier League football. Similarly, his expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) do not necessarily set the world alight, at 0.46 non-penalty xG+xA per 90 minutes he ranks 141st across Europe’s top five leagues, according to fbref’s model.
Opta similarly has him in the upper middle tier of Premier League rankings; what is notable is those players ahead of him. Among those: Bukayo Saka, Hakim Ziyech and Gabriel Martinelli, all of whom average around 0.5 non-penalty xG+xA per 90. Notably further ahead are Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, who Chelsea are working to bring to Stamford Bridge alongside Raphinha.
Now there is, of course, an obvious counter to why the Leeds forward has underlying metrics that are not quite on par with counterparts at Arsenal, Chelsea and other big six sides. One of these players was battling relegation, playing in a team that averaged 52 percent possession as opposed to 60 and addled by injuries. The others were in teams that won over 20 league games. Raphinha might have been the offensive hub for his side in a way that Ziyech, Martinelli or Sterling were not for theirs (and arguably even Saka and Mount), but he was carrying a heavy burden indeed on a side whose own identity was in flux under Marcelo Bielsa. In other words, he put up his numbers in a climate less than conducive to success. Others did not.
And of course, Raphinha is not being pursued to usurp the Sakas, Mounts and Dejan Kulusevskis of the big six but rather as competition, perhaps a first reserve rather than a guaranteed starter. After all, there are plenty of similarly performing forwards across Europe, almost all of whom would be available for significantly less than the fee that Leeds in the Premier League can demand for their best player. Arnaut Danjuma, Domenico Berardi and Moussa Diaby all had standout seasons and combine the ball progression of Danjuma with rather better underlying metrics for goal contributions.
The difference between these players and Raphinha is, of course, plain to see, at least for the Premier League clubs. They have been burned by the likes of Pepe and Romelu Lukaku struggling to translate output in other top European leagues to the English game. Both Arsenal and Chelsea in particular have shown a willingness this summer to push the boat out for known quantities Gabriel Jesus and Sterling.
That is how one justifies paying perhaps twice the price for Raphinha of an alternative based in Europe. Better to spend £55 million on a player whose impact can be relatively certain than take a swing on an unknown quantity.