Leeds United livewire Raphinha has revealed he was given just 20 minutes to decide whether he wanted to join the Premier League club in last summer’s transfer window.
Raphinha, 24, made a £17m switch from Rennes during the Premier League’s overseas deadline day in early-October, bolstering Marcelo Bielsa’s attacking armoury ahead of the club’s long-awaited return to the top flight.
The showpiece signing of the window was unquestionably Leeds’ eye-opening £27m acquisition of Spain international Rodrigo from Valencia, but it has been Raphinha who has taken the division by storm and seriously amped up the attacking flair of Bielsa’s side.
The Porto Alegre-born attacker is one of just a handful of players to register double digits for big chances created this term (10), alongside the likes of Bruno Fernandes (19), Kevin De Bruyne (17) and Jack Grealish (14), while he also ranks in the top ten for assists (six) and chances created overall (55).
It’s the kind of dazzling final-third wonderment that underpins the relentless attacking energy and panache of Bielsa’s eye-pleasing style, and has helped Leeds fashion a charge into the Premier League top 10 this season.
It’s now hard to envisage a Leeds line-up without Raphinha’s inclusion, but that’s a predicament Bielsa was nearly presented with as the West Yorkshire club scrambled at the eleventh hour to get the deal done, with the ex-Rennes forward now revealing he had less than half an hour to make a decision when the call came.
“The board said, ‘We’ve accepted an offer from Leeds, so now it’s your call: do you want to leave or stay?’”, Raphinha told FourFourTwo.
“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.”
The Brazilian continued: “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.”
Pep Guardiola: Raphinha is a weapon
Stuart Dallas stole the headlines in 10-man Leeds’ recent smash-and-grab triumph over Manchester City, with the Northern Irishman netting a delectable brace, including a last-minute winner to ensure three points headed to Elland Road, but in the aftermath Guardiola reserved special praise for another attacking player.
City naturally enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, owing largely to their numerical advantage, but on the visitor’s rare forays forward, Raphinha caught the eye, impressing Guardiola with his balletic stride, attacking verve and instinctive positional awareness.
When asked to assess the performance of the Brazilian, who has been linked with a host of Europe’s elite clubs, Guardiola was more than effusive in his praise.
“Of course he’s a weapon, an exceptional player with good pace,” he said. “Every player under Marcelo is getting better. He played a good game.”