Signing of the season? Richarlison proving the folly of transfer fee fury
Getting outraged over transfer fees is an odd pursuit, not least because it’s those completely unaffected by the deal who get the most angry: pundits, rival supporters, columnists.
No reasonable Everton fan castigated their club for spending upwards of £40m on Richarlison. Manager Marco Silva didn’t complain about the purchase. Richarlison’s new team-mates didn’t care about his fee. Offence was only ever taken on other people’s behalf.
It needn’t have been; the outrage was wasted far more than Everton’s millions. The transfer fee for Richarlison was inevitably increased by the fractured relationship between buying and selling club caused by Everton’s approach for Silva the previous season.
Their new manager had arrived waxing lyrical about Richarlison’s potential, and believed him to be key in Everton moving forward. Moreover, why would their fans be angry about their owner spending money on their club? Farhad Moshiri is reportedly worth around $1.7bn.
Still, the outrage did have an effect: it meant that Richarlison began his Everton career 10 metres behind the starting blocks. Everywhere he played in August and September, people followed, intent on scrutinising every touch and shot. Most will have judged Richarlison fairly; some will have deliberately searched for a fault.
That kind of pressure can suffocate a young player, something a fellow Brazilian knows only too well. Denilson, who was just 20 when Real Betis paid Sao Paulo a world-record £21.5m for his signature in 1998 (on a 10-year contract, no less), spoke out about the weight of a large price tag hanging around his neck.
“I knew they paid a lot of money for me, but I think the whole 'most expensive player ever' thing got way out of hand,” Denilson said. “People suddenly thought I was going to arrive and be La Liga's top scorer. So the whole price tag thing didn’t help me at all.”
It was therefore refreshing to hear Richarlison tackle the issue head on. “I’m relaxed about the transfer fee,” he told the Daily Mail in August. “I think Watford got a really good deal and I’m really glad that I’m at Everton.”
Amid the manufactured outrage, the most important person of all was staying calm.
Richarlison has been the signing of the Premier League season so far. He has scored six league goals, a total bettered by only three of his peers – Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Brazilian has also won his first senior international caps, scoring twice in four appearances. Of the players to score more than three times in the Premier League this season, Richarlison is the youngest by 18 months.
More impressive than his goal record is how he has become the leader of Everton’s attack at just 21. With Cenk Tosun failing to kick on after a full pre-season, and thus moving down the pecking order, boss Silva has moved Richarlison centrally having used him predominantly as a wide forward at Vicarage Road.
That demands a lot of a young player. Rather than dropping deep to pick up the ball and drive at full-backs, using technical ability and pace, Richarlison is being forced to compete in aerial duels and play with his back to goal in order to link up with Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bernard and Theo Walcott.
At Everton, Richarlison ranks first for goals and dribbles completed and second – only behind central defender Michael Keane – for aerial duels won. That, despite missing two Premier League games through suspension this season.
These are the statistics of the complete centre-forward. If he has the physical attributes to succeed as a lone central striker, the mentality to play in such a position takes some learning. New club, new surroundings, new role.
On the rise
No wonder Silva is so impressed. Not only has Richarlison improved his own reputation over the course of three months, his form is a tick in Silva’s box, having been so insistent of what Richarlison could achieve at Goodison. “He is a fantastic football player and he gives everything for us," said Silva after the 3-1 victory over Brighton. "He fights and enjoys the game.”
A reputation improved, and a value too. In September, one of those slightly spurious emails landed from the CIES Football Observatory, who market themselves as the industry leaders on player valuations. A month after Richarlison had played his first Everton game, his worth was purported to be £53.5m. By November 5, the same outlet believed it had reached £60.6m. Those valuations are effectively meaningless – a player is worth exactly as much as the highest price a buying club is prepared to pay – but it should mean that Richarlison is finally cut some slack.
But the Brazilian’s first chapter at Everton also offers a cautionary tale against criticising a transfer fee before a player has even kicked a ball for his new club.
Doing so is a nonsense anyway – a player will be worth his fee if he performs well but a waste of money if he doesn’t, and both can only be judged in hindsight – but it was particularly unfair on a 21-year-old who didn’t ask to cost £40m.
Sell him right now, and Everton could surely ask for half as much on top. Presumably then he would be a waste of money again...