Raphinha exclusive: “I had 20 minutes to decide whether or not to join Leeds – but it was the chance to fulfil my dream”

(Image credit: PA)

Raphinha joined Leeds in October 2020, right at the end of the transfer window. 

The 24-year-old had already played six games for Rennes this season before his Premier League switch, including the 2-2 draw against Reims in which he scored. 

Directly after the game, the Brazillian met with the club’s hierarchy to discuss a potential move away from the French club. With the transfer window preparing to slam shut, the rendezvous was urgent, not allowing Raphinha much time to make a decision. This, he explains, was both complicated and easy at the same time.

“The board said, ‘We’ve accepted an offer from Leeds, so now it’s your call: do you want to leave or stay?’” Raphinha explains in the latest issue of FourFourTwo, in shops and available to order online now. “If I wanted to leave, there was a private flight waiting for me to go to England and undergo a medical before signing the contract.

“Well, if I said it was a simple decision I’d be lying. It was definitely a tough decision. And I had 20 minutes to give my answer! Pretty complicated, right? 

“On the one hand, I’d just helped Rennes reach the Champions League for the first time in their history, and it would have been brilliant to take part in that unique campaign. On the other hand, I had the offer from a traditional, huge club like Leeds, who were also enjoying great momentum having returned to the Premier League.”

325 Raphinha

Read the full interview with Raphinha in the May 2021 issue of FourFourTwo, on sale now (Image credit: Future)

Born in Porto Alegre in Brazil, Raphinha moved to Europe in 2016 to join Portuguese side Vitória Guimarães. Aiming for England, the Brazillian moved to Sporting Lisbon in 2018, before his switch to Rennes a year later. Therefore, his decision was made easier when Leeds came calling to help him finally realise his dream. 

“Believe it or not, English football has always been my number one target. As long ago as I can remember, when I started watching football on TV, the Premier League was there. I enjoy watching English games, because it’s a special league full of tradition, great clubs, managers and players. It’s also competitive, as there are so many top quality teams.”

“My desire to play for an English club was my first thought before signing for Leeds, so you can imagine how pleased I am now wearing their shirt in the Premier League.”

Working with highly popular Argentine manager Marcelo Bielsa has also certainly been enjoyable, helping to showcase Raphinha as one of the league’s most exciting players. While Bielsa’s demanding nature isn’t surprising for the forward player, El Loco’s man-management skills have instead impressed him - something Raphinha places a lot of importance on. 

“It’s been great to work with Bielsa. He’s always trying to make things better and improve the standards of everything and everyone – and the only way to do that is through hard work.”

“Bielsa is a demanding manager, but that’s normal for top professionals. It’s important to mention his human side, too: he cares for everyone and tries to see how he can help every individual to get better.

“In a big squad, some guys naturally don’t get as much game time as they’d like, and it would be easy for them to feel a little bit down. But then Bielsa comes to talk to them, explains his reasons and keeps everyone motivated. Some people don’t appreciate the importance of that, but I do. Sometimes players need this attention and the support of their leader.”

“In football, the coach is often a father figure for players – he wants to get the very best out of them, but cares as well. It’s not a cold relationship, and that’s definitely the case with Bielsa. It’s easy to work with him.”

Bielsa’ expansive, attacking style of football has also helped Leeds in their first season back in the top flight. Despite criticism labelled at the team’s openness in certain games, Raphinha describes how refreshing it is to play in the team, especially as an attacker.

“As an attacker, it’s always great to be as close to the other team’s goal as possible, and that’s been the case at Leeds. We try to play football without fear, which is enjoyable. No matter the opponent or score, we want to put the pressure on and be aggressive. That approach helps every player to show their talent.”

“For me, the most beautiful thing in football is seeing both sides play with bravery and try to win the match – that’s the bright side of football.”

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