Brazil hopes for “R9” again at the World Cup 16 years after Ronaldo

Seven goals in last six internationals: Richarlison is in World Cup form.Image: imago

Brazil has been waiting a long time for a successor to “Il Fenomeno”. At the World Cup in Qatar, the hopes of the “Seleçao” are on Richarlison. A shy striker whose life was saved by football, not only in the figurative sense of the word. Our series on the key figures of the World Cup favourites.

9/11/2022, 2:37 p.m09/11/2022, 16:27

Nicholas Helbling

He was sent off after just four minutes of the 2006 World Cup round of 16 against Ghana. As the defense speculates on their offside trap, Ronaldo is then alone in front of the keeper – the Africans soon discover that this is not a good idea. A quick step with his right foot, he tapped the ball with his other foot, and the then thirty-year-old already had a clear shot and was unable to take the opening goal.

It was Il Fenomeno’s last World Cup goal. Since then, Brazil has been waiting for a successor. Now there are hopes for Richarlison – and the 25-year-old believes he can fulfill them. “I will be Brazil’s top scorer at the World Cup in Qatar,” he said in an interview with Globo. Despite strong competition from Swiss group rivals Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Richarlison was seeded last. He scored seven goals in six games. So, 16 years after the World Cup in Germany, the “R9” should be built again in Qatar.

Richarlison’s journey began in New Venice, a small town almost 800 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro. And he almost ended there. “Where I lived, there were a lot of people who used drugs and owned guns. It was a dangerous area,” he once told FourFourTwo. He could have lost his life several times because he was in the wrong place. “A lot of my friends are lost in drugs and most of them are in prison.”

Football as a way out – and as a rescuer

But for him, there was always only football. Like many Brazilian footballers from poor areas, sport was an outlet. But football didn’t just figuratively save Richarlison’s life. When he was 14, they held a gun to his head. “He thought I was a drug dealer. But the young man showed the ball he was carrying and explained that he was on his way home from football. He easily escaped the situation, as Richarlison writes in “The Players’ Tribune”.

Long before that, today’s Tottenham professional subordinated everything to football. His parents separated when he was seven, and knowing his mother wasn’t into the sport and was unlikely to drive him to practice or games, Richarlison jumped off the float and ran to his father. He got his love for football from him and did not lose it when he returned to his mother after three years.

Richarlison with his father.

Because they needed support, he had to work from the age of 11. He sold ice cream, washed cars and also worked on his grandfather’s farm. He didn’t enjoy it – he just wanted to play football. Talent alone was not enough and Richarlison was repeatedly rejected by bigger clubs. Even at 17 – an advanced age for a youth academy player – he was still waiting for a contract. When Richarlison saw how badly his father, still living alone and also suffering from depression, was doing, he flipped a switch, he writes. It was clear to him: “I have to get him out of there.” And there was only one way to do it: football.

Last chance at 17

This extra motivation came at the right time. At the time, he was on trial training with Brazilian second division club América Mineiro. “It was my last chance. Richarlison started training even harder – and it paid off. Soon after, he had his first contract in his pocket. In the summer of 2017, shortly after his 20th birthday, Fluminense left for Watford in England and Everton a year later.

He was not always popular with England fans. His name kept coming up when it came to the most hated player. Sometimes he attracted attention with swallows, sometimes with harsh fouls like against Liverpool’s Thiago. Richarlison was also a source of irritation in other ways. In the spring he threw a firecracker back into the crowd that had been thrown onto the pitch after one of his goals for Everton. After moving to Tottenham, he accused his former club of a “lack of ambition” to FourFourTwo.

But off the field, Richarlison has a completely different side. “He has a very pure heart,” Marco Silva, his former manager at Watford and Everton, told This is also shown in the episode describing The Athletic. When he was still playing in Mineiro and after his first sponsorship deal with Nike, he received a lot of clothes that were sent to him, he took them into the city and gave them to the homeless.

And while Brazilian superstar Neymar supported right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro in the recently concluded election campaign, Richarlison prefers to campaign for other issues. For example, protecting the rainforest or fighting racism. “Land is our greatest treasure. Let’s take care of them.” That’s another reason why fans of the clubs he plays for love the shy forward off the pitch. And he also says he still loves Everton despite his move to Spurs.

But the love for the “Seleçao” is even greater. Even as a child, it was best for him when his country played. And he also remembers the 2006 World Cup when Ronaldo scored against Ghana. “We painted the street and cheered for the team with flags.” During the World Cup in Qatar, other children will paint the street and cheer for him as they once did for their idol. And then hopefully they can celebrate goals from “R9” – just like he did 16 years ago. After all, Richarlison is Brazil’s best scorer.

Plan of Brazil

November 24, 20:00: Brazil – Serbia
November 28 at 5 p.m.: Brazil – Switzerland
December 2, 20:00: Cameroon – Brazil

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