From gunpoint to Everton's star man: Richarlison's journey to the top
About a decade ago, a young lanky kid had a gun pointed at his head. The assailant thought that he was a drug dealer who was trying to go behind his back. Yesterday, the same kid, now 21, scored two goals in a Premier League game to clinch a point for his side. It has been a tough journey to the top for Richarlison.
Richarlison de Andrade was born in Nova Venecia, a province located in south-eastern Brazil. His locality had no shortage of guns and drugs, and kids his age were no strangers to the same. However, spurred on by his football dream, Richarlison abstained from such vices. In a recent interview with football magazine FourFourTwo, he revealed some eye-catching details about his journey.
(You can read the original piece here)
As a kid, his love for the game knew no bounds. For want of better playing conditions, he scavenged his neighbours' cut grass and planted it in his house.
His parents split up in his childhood and he lived with his dad till he turned 10. Despite experiencing this distraction as well as the violence and drugs on the streets, his love for football did not divert him.
“Where I lived there were a lot of people that used drugs and guns, so although it was quiet, it was dangerous. Several times I was offered weed, but thank God I never smoked it," he says. “A lot of my friends got lost on drugs and most of them are in prison. I still talk to them, but I have a lot to be thankful for not going down that path. I had a conscience. I couldn’t do it.”
In Nova Venecia, he joined a football school which gave him his first significant stage. His team entered in the Copa Gazetinha, a prominent tournament in the state of Espirito Santo. Richarlison finished as the top-scorer, carrying his side to runners-up spot in the process.
He managed to secure trials with Figueirenese and Avai, clubs which currently play in Brazil's second division. But he encountered rejection at both.
"Figueirense told me they didn’t want me – on my birthday. I was very sad and thought about giving up," he says. "But when I got home to my family they gave me strength, and my coach at Gazetinha told me to keep going."
He would walk in excess of 9 kilometres each day just to go to the football school to train. But it was looking as if these efforts would bear no fruit. No club was seemingly interested in him until he got a phone call from Real Noroeste - a club which would turn out to be the first professional one in his career.
At Real Noroeste, he starting putting together his career. He was spotted by businessman Renato Velasco when he was 16, and the talent was clear to be seen. Velasco was the person who gave Richarlison his first proper pair of boots.
“Renato was the first one that gave me an opportunity," he says. "In the first week, he gave me a pair of football boots because before that I had been playing with odd ones."
Velasco is currently his agent and such is their bond that his wife Giovanna has cooked for Richarlison ever since he has arrived in England. Soon after joining Real Noroeste, America MG, a big club in the real sense came calling.
He had to go to Belo Horizonte, some 500 kilometres away from his home. “I had a one-way ticket because I got hungry and spent the money for a return ticket on food," he says. "I had to succeed.” The pressure to succeed there must have been enormous.
But succeed he did and was quickly inducted into the senior team. However, he suffered another setback in his quest. "I suffered a serious injury and had to have a screw put in my foot. I was out for three months," he says. “I would wake up at 5 am to do my rehab and go home at 8 pm. It was a very sad year, but I learned a lot from it and worked hard to come back even stronger.”
After his comeback, he recorded nine goals and four assists before making the move to Fluminense. Here he bettered his game, as he contributed to 18 goals in 44 appearances. His exploits in Rio ensured attention and a move to Ajax seemed to be on the cards in 2017.
But the then Watford boss Marco Silva was a huge fan of his, and his phone call changed everything. He hijacked the Ajax deal and Richarlison was on his way to the Premier League. "I ended up changing my mind because to play in the Premier League was a childhood dream, so I didn’t think twice before coming here," he says.
He had an explosive start as a Hornet, which coincided with Watford's rise up the table. But their form petered out and Silva was eventually sacked. Richarlison also faded away due to fatigue and injuries.
Appointed as the new Everton manager, Silva signed Richarlison for about £40 million, a huge fee despite talent. This speaks volumes about how high he rates the young Brazilian, and Richarlison thinks of him as a father-figure as well.
Having a full three months of rest behind him, he will finally look to consistently light up the league. The starting signs are definitely favourable, as was seen at the Molineux yesterday. His brace clinched a point for the Toffees and he looked impressive throughout.
He has the pressure of his transfer fee upon him, but that obstacle seems insignificant to the ones he has overcome until now in his journey to the top. And if yesterday was any indicator, then the future is incredibly bright for this young and hardened Brazilian.