Richarlison: 'I Can Inspire People On And Off The Field'

Richarlison talks about encountering and tackling racism, the forward’s concern for family in Brazil during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, embracing his ‘great social responsibility’ and a burning ambition to add to Everton’s ‘beautiful history’.

This interview first appeared in Everton's matchday programme for the final game of 2019/20, against Bournemouth.

Joao Pedro Matos Pinto never had the chance to make his dad proud.

“He had dreams,” said Joao’s father, Neilton da Costa Pinto.

“He wanted to be a top lawyer. He was such a dedicated boy. He really knew what he wanted in life.”

On 18 May – seven days before unarmed black man George Floyd drew his final breath under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis – Joao Pedro died from a single assault rifle shot to his back.

He was 14.

Joao Pedro was at his cousin’s home in Complexo do Salgueiro, a favela in Rio de Janeiro’s Sao Goncalo municipality.

More than 70 bullet holes were discovered in the building where he was killed.

Police had reportedly entered the favela in search of drug traffickers.

Joao Pedro’s killing remains under investigation.

Demonstrators have marched in Rio to protest against the police’s routine storming of favelas and the “state-sponsored genocide of Brazil’s black youth”.

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Richarlison makes his dad proud every day.

He reads how Joao Pedro’s opportunities to develop friendships and study at university and forge a career and have a family and make his dad proud were senselessly taken from him – and of too many similarly tragic tales – and is consumed by sadness.

And he thinks, ‘there but for the grace of God…’.

Replace law with football and Richarlison was no different from Joao Pedro.

He grew up in drug-blighted Nova Venecia, 480 miles south of Rio, intent on withstanding hardship and rejection to make it in football and create a better life for his mum and dad and brothers and sisters.

As Richarlison’s status grew, from America Mineiro to Fluminense, then in the Premier League with Watford and now as a kingpin in Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton team and with his national side, he understood his position of influence.


“After starting a professional career, I saw I could do bigger and bigger things,” says Richarlison.

“It’s not always about money, it’s a matter of truly caring and engaging in causes that are important.

“At the beginning I just wanted to give that house to my parents.

“Now I see that I can do much more than that. I can help and I can inspire people on and off the field.”

A drop in raids on favelas during the initial phase of Brazil’s coronavirus quarantine gave rise to a flickering hope of enduring change but in April 177 people died at the hands of Rio’s police.

This is where Richarlison comes in on the issue of racism.

Later in this interview, he will talk about wanting to make a meaningful imprint on Everton’s “beautiful history”, and his confidence that a footballer coming out as gay would be accepted without issue in the sport.

He will explain his determination to meet the expectations Ancelotti deftly dropped on Richarlison’s sturdy shoulders and his concern for his family at home in Brazil where coronavirus is rampant.

First, though, the Everton forward’s thoughts on the prevailing anti-racism sentiment generated by Floyd’s death.

He is tentatively optimistic that the universal horror which greeted the episode can be an agent of change.

But he knows the distance of travel required to eradicate the insidious everyday forms of racism Richarlison encountered growing up in Brazil.

“Racism is something we live with every day,” he says.

“It appears not only in words or in actions but also in disguise.

“It was racism when my friends and I went to play football in my city and someone called me bandit, when I hadn't done anything to deserve that.

“But it’s also racism when people change sidewalks when they see a black man coming in the opposite direction.


“These are subtle things that show the scale of the problem.

“Everyone was very moved by what happened to George Floyd.

“It was shocking and very sad to see those images.

“It’s a good thing that this barbarism didn’t go unnoticed once again and people decided to protest and show their dissatisfaction.

“This is extremely important.

“In Brazil, the population of the peripheries, which is almost entirely black, suffers from this daily.

“A 14-year-old black boy named João Pedro was killed in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, inside his [cousin’s] home, which was hit with more than 70 shots.

“This happens every day.

“We have thousands of cases like George Floyd’s every year but it’s something that has become routine.

“People – especially the authorities – don’t feel it or suffer for it.

“These cases are quickly forgotten… the lost lives, the families of the victims, and nothing is proposed to change this reality.

“It has turned into an ideological war, where the words education, health and security are rarely mentioned.

“If it [racial abuse] happened to me, I would have no problem talking about it.

“But… in addition to giving a voice to the person who suffers from racism, the laws for those who commit this disgusting act need to be stricter.”

Richarlison recoils at the idea of his impact on society amounting to no more than the professional honours on his sideboard.

The lie that sport and politics don’t mix has been blown apart once and for all by events in 2020.

Football exited the coronavirus shutdown with its reputation enhanced.


Clubs were at the vanguard of supporting communities – Everton’s Blue Family campaign reached thousands of families and individuals – the Players Together initiative was conceived to donate funds to the NHS and Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United striker, orchestrated a successful bid to convince the Government to extend its free school meal voucher scheme into the summer holidays.

Every Premier League match since football’s resumption has been preceded by players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Richarlison cites the late basketball star Kobe Bryant, a sporting icon who was outspoken on racism, as a source of inspiration.

The Everton player, who hosts an annual football match to generate funds to feed deprived communities in his home state of Espirito Santo, organised 500 food parcels, each containing supplies to feed one household for a month, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

He arranged similar relief for stricken families when floods laid waste to a number of Brazilian regions early this year.

In May, the 23-year-old became an ambassador for the University of Sao Paulo with the aim of raising funding and awareness for research into Covid-19.

“It’s extremely necessary to remove the label from players, which says they should stick to sports and not talk about anything else,” says Richarlison.

“When we see such influential guys, like Kobe Bryant, for example, speaking out and showing his ambition for a better world, we need to be inspired.

“He could have stayed quiet and gone about his business as usual.

“But then, what would his contribution as a sportsman have been?

“He would not have influenced anyone other than in basketball.

“All of us who play in major leagues and have some space in the media have a great social responsibility.

“And this can’t be only words, we need to act more and more to help and to try to change people's reality.


“I want to be remembered as someone who tried to change things around me for the better.

“And I think the first step is to expose the wounds and humanise the problems in our communities.

“We don't need to be experts in everything, just to understand what’s really important.

“I don’t know anything about science, for example, I have never entered a laboratory in my life.

“But I know that the work of scientists and universities is important in this moment, so I can lend my voice to them.

“It is simple but it is an attitude that can help bring about change.”

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Sports psychology has advanced far beyond dividing footballers into two distinct groups: those motivated by the carrot and their counterparts who respond to the stick.

Still, reverting to that base analysis, Everton manager Ancelotti recently gave Richarlison a conspicuous prod when publicly declaring the South American should be scoring a minimum of 20 goals a season.

Richarlison reached 15 in all competitions for 2019/20 with a majestic header to beat Sheffield United on Monday.

That strike was his 13th in the Premier League, matching last season’s total and surpassing Romelu Lukaku’s 25 league goals in the Belgian’s opening two Everton campaigns.

The Blades were the latest team following restart to mete out some heavy treatment to Richarlison, with Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton also singling out the forward.

“I realised that,” says Richarlison.

“My shins and my ankles did, too.

“The attention on me can open space for my teammates and be a weapon for us.

“But in those games, the opponents increased the number of fouls.

“I also got hit a lot in the match against Leicester. I had to leave after a foul that could have fractured my ankle (midfielder Wilfried Ndidi was booked for the challenge which forced Richarlison off after 57 minutes).

“In general, I don’t believe attackers receive much protection.

“In the game against Tottenham, for example, I suffered seven fouls.

“It was three yellow cards for them for hard fouls on me. But what's the point?

“They rotate. Each time a player comes, hits hard and, at most, receives this warning.

“If they hurt me or cause a more serious injury, the rule didn’t punish them enough and didn’t protect me enough.

“I think there are some things that need to be revised, especially when teams play a not-so-clean game.”

Richarlison sounds a similar note to Ancelotti when assessing his second season with Everton.

He reckons he could have been “even better… scored more goals.”

Ancelotti coupled his scoring demand of Richarlison with praise for the player’s ice-cool temperament in front of goal.


“I think almost all strikers have a little bit of that, but there is always room for improvement,” says Richarlison.

“Attackers need to surprise, do different things.

“If not, you become an easy target for defenders and goalkeepers.

“You have to think before everyone else and make quick decisions. And that always comes from what we do in training and even just playing with the ball.

“I hope next season I can go past that [20-goal] mark and get closer to what Carlo expects from me.

“I am extremely competitive. When someone challenges me, I try to do even more than what is asked.

“You can bet I will do everything possible to reach that mark and show him I am capable, but, of course, always thinking first about the team.”

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Richarlison is refreshingly comfortable talking about any issue.

Football once tied itself in knots over the topic of homosexuality – specifically how the sport would react to an active player coming out as gay.

It continues to trail society in how its standpoint on the subject is perceived.

But, on the weekend of Liverpool Pride – a series of events aimed at eliminating LGBTQ+ discrimination – Richarlison wants to do his bit to alter that wider view.

“I think football is becoming more inclusive and so it should,” says Richarlison.

“The world has changed a lot, we can no longer live as people did 100 years ago.

“We are all the same and we should be treated this way.

“Why not in football? We can’t be a bubble in the world.”

What, in Richarlison’s opinion, would be the consensus response in Everton’s dressing room if a player announced he was gay?

“I don't think it would be a problem, here or anywhere else,” he asserts.

“Everyone must be treated, first, with respect and equality.

“I read a letter sent to the press by a gay Premier League athlete, saying the situation he lives in affects his mental health and that he’s afraid to tell his teammates, for fear things will get even worse.

“It should not be like that."

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Richarlison is maintaining daily contact with his family at home right now.

He spent the UK lockdown in his homeland but watching coronavirus tighten its grip on Brazil from a distance has heightened his sense of unease.

The country has recorded more than 2.1m infections and in the past two months its death toll has quadrupled to more than 80,000.

“My family are doing well, only leaving the house for what is strictly necessary,” says Richarlison.

“The news of what is happening with coronavirus makes everyone heartbroken, especially those who are far away, as in my case.

“I’m worried about my family and my friends because the disease has spread throughout the country and we don't have a clear way out.”

Richarlison has an empathetic ear at Everton.

Compatriot Bernard followed Richarlison to the Club in the summer 2018.

The football community and broader society were unanimously supportive when Bernard spoke publicly for the first time in July about his ongoing psychological treatment following an anxiety attack last year.

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00:38

EVERTON WOMEN RETURN TO TRAINING IN hummel GEAR

Revamped squad dons hummel kit at USM Finch Farm.


The reaction inside the sport was a fair reflection of football’s mature attitude to mental health.

Positioning this topic – and those of racism and sexuality and equality – on the sports pages, reasons Richarlison, can stimulate wider conversations and understanding.

“I think it is very important for Bernard to talk about what he suffered,” says Richarlison.

“Whoever sees the guy who is always laughing and having fun with us doesn’t imagine he could have such a problem.

“But it’s important for him to open up and talk both to himself and to people who are embarrassed when they are in need of psychological treatments.

“A guy admired by fans like him talking about this subject takes more of the stigma out of it.”

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Richarlison’s take on Everton’s campaign is no different from the can-do-better verdict he delivered on his own season.

Essentially, the attacker, a Copa America winner with Brazil 12 months ago, shares the ambition of Italian Ancelotti, who is intent on overseeing a rapid upturn in fortunes at Goodison Park.

Richarlison wants to be in an Everton team competing for honours and jostling for position at the Premier League’s business end.

“We will have less time to work on pre-season than normal,” says Richarlison.

“Therefore, we need to work hard and improve a lot to achieve what Carlo expects from us.

“When a club bets on a coach like him, it thinks about reaching a prominent position.

“The players need to think like that, too.

“Anything is possible.

“A club that thinks big, as is the case with Everton, which has so many fans around the world and such a beautiful history in football, can reach higher positions.

“We can grow quickly, aim to reach European competitions and, in some time, fight for the top.

“I want to make history with Everton's shirt. It is a source of great pride and honour to be able to wear this shirt.

“I want to be important here, score goals, cheer the fans and show that our team can reach even higher.”

Richarlison still has dreams.

Among them, a world where nobody crosses the road to avoid a fellow human being who just happens to have different colour skin from their own.

Where men like Neilton da Costa Pinto are not reduced to talking about their child’s hopes and ambitions and lust for life in the past tense.