Richarlison: Work ethic and humble origins behind the rise of the Everton striker

Richarlison could face FA action after catching a rocket at Goodison Park

A battered red brick bus stop in the small Brazilian town of Nova Venecia has a story to tell.

Back to the Dark Channel, with its 2-pound buffet that you can eat all you can eat and a drunk who fainted in the lobby, marks the starting point of Richardson’s journey to the Premier League.

At the age of 17 and discouraged by a series of rejections, he left home for an 11-hour and 600-kilometer trip to Belo Horizonte, with borrowed boots and no money for a return ticket.

It was 2014. The rehearsals in Avai and Figueirense remained unrewarded, his beloved national team was humiliated at home at the World Cup. Attracting little attention despite being the top scorer with Real Noroeste under 20, the young striker was losing hope.

He considered his last big chance to travel by bus to the west – due to the trial with the second division team America-MG. He was determined not to give up.

“I remember that day,” childhood friend Pedro Emanuel told BBC Sport.

“He told me to go, but he didn’t have boots. Honestly, he had a black pair, but they were falling apart. I told him, ‘Man, there’s a pair here, striking blue and pink, you should take them.’ Thank God it all worked out. “

It certainly worked, the trial eventually leading to five consecutive seasons in the Premier League with Watford and Everton. On the international stage, Richarlison is the winner of the Copa America, the winner of the gold medal at the 2020 Olympic Games and the security for this year’s World Cup in Qatar with Brazil.

Yet everything could have been so different.

Short presentation gray line

Richarlison’s parents separated when he was six, so he spent three years living with his father Antonio, working on his grandfather’s farm helping harvest coffee beans, traveling long trips every weekend to play games.

Until the age of seven, people told Antonia to invest in her son because he has a special talent. He responded by buying 10 soccer balls and sending him to live with his aunt in New Venice.

“We were very poor at the time,” Antonio told BBC Sport, wearing a training jersey for the Nova Venecia football club, of which he is president and his son is ambassador.

“It was a very difficult childhood for him, and a difficult one for me because we lived in the countryside and every week we had to get on a truck to come to football matches. People said he still had a future, so when he turned nine I left him with my sister. “

Richarlison helped him pay for his trip by selling ice cream and chocolate on the streets, washing cars, working in a cafe with his uncle Elton, and trying his hand as a bricklayer’s assistant.

Although Antonio admits that his son was not the most academic child, the staff of the Tito dos Santos Neves school in Rubia’s rough neighborhood describes a well-behaved boy who went crazy for football with dyed yellow hair like his idol Neymar. The school janitor recalls breaking through the front door every day and running straight into the backyard to play football. Teachers remember his humility and good behavior.

“He didn’t like to study, but he wasn’t undisciplined,” says Elisangela Monteiro Guidi, who taught Richarlison when he was 11 years old.

“He was always well-mannered, by no means a rebellious boy. He had respect for his teachers and it came from his family, who are good people. Surely at that time and in this area he could have participated in drugs and violence, but he always managed to avoid it. “

Not always. At the age of 14, Richarlison was pulled by a local merchant who pulled a gun he believed was trying to invade his territory. And Antonio recalls being called to school on one occasion after his son was picked up by police on the street.

“We were worried because the area was dangerous at the time,” Antonio says. “But it was more of a case that he was caught in the middle. Unfortunately, many of his friends went the wrong way.”

Richardson's Old School in New Venice
Richarlison’s old school – he would break through the gate to play football in the yard before school

Richarlison attributes it to his first youth coach, Fidel Carvalho, a police officer, once again who helped him avoid a criminal life. “Never give up,” was Carvalho’s motto. He remembers pushing eight team members into a VW Goal to compete in the finals outside the city. The future Everton striker traveled in football boots, and they returned as champions.

By age 16, Richarlison was playing for Real Noroeste as an amateur and dominated the under-20 age group, and his strength and pace proved problematic even for those three years older. However, things ended badly when the club’s negotiating tactics led to the almost collapse of his move to America-MG in 2014.

After many improvements, Real were allowed to retain a percentage of their rights, but the club’s stubborn attitude affected the mental health of Antonio, who was already suffering from depression. To this day, Richarlison does not like to talk about that period of his career.

If leaving Real proved difficult, the young man easily adjusted to life in America. One of only two boys selected from the trials he traveled to by bus, he joined the U17 club from Serie B before quickly entering the U20 after four goals in his first four appearances.

American director Euler de Almeida Araujo remembers being impressed by his strength and determination – a polished run up and down the hilly, cobbled streets of New Venice. Weeks later he trained with the first team.

“He played on the wing and would have been fouled a lot, but he would rarely fall,” Araujo says.

“The defenders would hit him and he would fall. You would think he was hurt, but he would come back and move on. He never gave up. He was like young Ronaldo in that sense – that physical strength and determination at such a young age. “

A canal that stretches through New Venice
Richarlison moved to New Venice as a boy to live with his aunt

Richarlison’s competitiveness wasn’t just reserved for the field. American massage therapist Silvio Junio ​​Nunes da Silva remembers having to take his little son to work one night before the game.

“Richarlison was playing a PlayStation, so my son asked if he could play too,” he says.

“I left them to it, but when I came back, Richarlison won 11-0. I said, ‘That’s enough, man.’ But he was ruthless. He wanted to keep scoring, keep winning. He was 17, my son was seven. That desire to win is in his blood. “

Marcelo Toscano played ahead of Richarlison in 2015 when America was promoted to Serie A. He remembers a player with talent, humility – and a big nose.

“He was a lot of fun; we always joked back and forth. We called him Toucan then because, I mean, he’s not small, is he?” Tuscany says.

“From the beginning, I said he would go far – because of his work ethic, his determination, his talent and his humility. We scored a lot of goals that season and it’s no coincidence that he’s where he is today.”

Richarlison stayed in America for just a year, scoring nine times in 24 appearances before being sold to Fluminense for R $ 10 million (now worth £ 1.6 million) at just 18 years old. Still, he clearly left an impression – and not just because they retained 20% of their economic rights, so he got unexpected money when he moved to Watford in 2017 for £ 11.5 million. Talk to anyone at the club and they will share the story of their famous former colleague and his humble looks.

For example, when a young player in America receives his first professional salary, club rules stipulate that he should leave the dormitory to make room for someone else. Richarlison, instead of renting a nice apartment identified by his agent, preferred to continue living with his teammates – and the occasional rats who visited the bedrooms in the evenings. He withdrew only 20% of his first salary, and used the rest to support his family at home.

“He was a simple guy, very humble and a really good person who helped everyone as much as he could,” says Ze Ricardo, an American quarterback who lived with Richarlison in dorms.

“Guys who didn’t have boots, he gave them his. He has a super good heart.”

That humility and empathy remained even as his career took off.

Antonio adds: “He had a very close relationship with his grandfather and his great-grandfather – everyone says the same thing about them; humble, hardworking people.

“We always taught him to carry it with him. And today I always say he must not lose that essence. He must keep his feet on the ground.

And he does. Whenever he comes to New Venice, he helps whoever he can. If he was there, he would still be walking up and down in flip-flops, playing football with the kids in the fields, as he did before. Unfortunately, now more dangerous for him, so he works more online. ”

Richarlison's father Antonio pictured at the Nova Venecia FC club gym
Richarlison’s father Antonio pictured at the Nova Venecia FC club gym

There are few active players, if any, as loud as Richarlison when it comes to social issues. He has helped raise awareness and funds in a wide range of charitable work, including deforestation, The Brazilian rape crisis, the fight against Covid-19 and the importance of voting in this year’s presidential election.

In 2019, shortly after he paid a group of Brazilian students to fly to Taiwan to compete in an international math quiz, he broke protocol when he received the most prestigious honor available to an athlete in his home state of Espirito Santo. Asking for an opportunity to speak, he called on the regional government to invest more in education.

A year later and after organizing a charity match in New Venice that produced 6.4 tonnes of food for those in need, he was named Everton’s PFA community champion.

“All of us who play in the big leagues and have space in the media have a great social responsibility,” he said for the club’s official website.

– At first I just wanted to buy a house for my parents, but then I saw that I could do bigger things.

Evidence of his popularity at Everton can be found in the fact that even as his club finds itself embroiled in a relegation battle and rumors link him to leaving – a potential reunion with Neymar at PSG persists – no one could realistically question his commitment. He still leaves every inch of his six-foot frame on the field.

It may not be the characteristic most commonly associated with Brazilian footballers, but it is good for his chances of success at what will be his first World Cup later this year.

“It’s a dream he’s dreamed of since childhood watching Ronaldo in 2002,” says Antonio, just a short walk from the battered red-brick bus stop where it all began.

“That final, he was just a little boy; now, God willing, he will be there to play. I always told him he would play in the World Cup.

“And, just so you know, I told him he’d be the top scorer, so let’s see …”

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