Richarlison: I Have No Doubt We're Heading For Success At Everton

“You all right, la?” beams Richarlison, showing off his growing command of Scouse.

Pose the same question to the Brazilian and the response is markedly different from the one you’d have received before a revitalising talk with Carlo Ancelotti a few months back.

Everton manager Ancelotti counts Richarlison among the 10 finest forwards he’s managed during 25 years overseeing world football’s glitterati.

Richarlison is stoked about this and animatedly brings it into conversation.

Part of what’s catapulted him to this level, bracketed alongside childhood idol Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andriy Shevchenko and Cristiano Ronaldo, in Ancelotti’s estimation, is the expectation Richarlison heaps on his own shoulders.

He knows he’s good and that he brings a lot to the party.

As things stood after Everton’s barmy draw with Manchester United 11 earlier this month, for example, he’d made more tackles this season than any of his Premier League attacking counterparts.

Indeed, despite not starting five of the 21 league matches Everton had played at that juncture – more of which later – Richarlison’s 32 tackles positioned him one ahead of Sadio Mane of Liverpool and eight in front of the remainder of the field in that chart.

Nothing sits quite right for Richarlison if he’s not scoring, though.

Following Everton’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea in December – a sixth straight league game when Richarlison didn’t net but hardly a run to constitute a drought – he took his concerns to Ancelotti.

In the next match, Richarlison sent a low shot skidding past Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in a 2-0 win.

Richarlison, typically, was beginning to bristle once more until he met a James Rodriguez corner to power home a header in the FA Cup fourth-round defeat of Sheffield Wednesday last month.

“It was bothering me a bit when my only Premier League goal had been from a penalty [against Crystal Palace back in September, although he’d struck three times in Carabao Cup matches],” starts Richarlison.

“I had a chat with Carlo about it… the day before the Leicester game.

“He told me to relax and that I would score in the next game and, thank God, that’s exactly what happened.

“His word is…I don’t know… powerful.”

There was a time when suspicions were aired over Richarlison’s capacity to survive the course and distance of a Premier League season.

It feels like it belongs to another era.

He’d travelled outside Brazil for the first time – to play two matches for the country’s Under-20 team against England – scarcely 12 months before leaving his homeland altogether to join Watford in August 2017.

Adapting to a new country and culture and style of football, Richarlison scored five goals in his opening 12 games.

He didn’t add any more but featured in every match of a campaign when he turned 21 three days prior to the final fixture.

Richarlison’s durability with Everton is matched by reliable goalscoring: 15 last term to add to 14 in 2018/19.

“I think it’s the product of teamwork,” claims Richarlison. “With everybody working well, we’ll be successful up front.

“I think the goals will come naturally as the Professor [Ancelotti] has been telling me.

“As an attacker, I aim to be constantly scoring and I should be concerned about scoring goals, so I think I was right to be bothered.

“At the same time, I was being a bit unfair on myself.

"Even though I wasn’t scoring, I was giving my all to help out in defence, making slide tackles, running and helping my teammates.

“More goals will come.”

Richarlison’s selflessness and inveterate drive both stem from an early hand-to-mouth existence.

As he relives the journey 400 miles west from hometown Nova Venecia to Belo Horizonte to trial with America Mineiro following a handful of rejections, Richarlison inadvertently tells the story of his childhood in microcosm.

There is the youth coach, Regis, who funded Richarlison’s bus ticket but could afford only enough for the young talent to travel one way.

The rumbling stomach which persuaded him to spend a proportion of his limited kitty on food before reaching his destination.

And the hungry youth team players he encountered at the club.

“I said, ‘I’ve got some money, let’s eat,’ says Richarlison.

“I invited the lads and spent all the money.”

Richarlison, wearing boots borrowed from a friend – “I remember like it was yesterday, one boot was pink, the other blue, and my odd boots were getting funny looks” – had no alternative but to impress.

“I didn’t even think about going back to Nova Venecia, I went there confident I was going to pass the trial,” says Richarlison, who joined America Mineiro aged 17.

“I didn’t have the money to get back.

“I don’t know… the food brought happiness to me and the lads there.

“I just got on with it, giving my everything, and it all worked out.”

Richarlison accounted for one-third of a forward trio that could accurately consider itself among Europe’s finest as Everton exploded into this campaign.

He has been frequently separated from James and Dominic Calvert-Lewin of late, however, a product of minor injuries for the Colombian-English pair and a rotation policy employed by Ancelotti to preserve legs in a uniquely relentless season.

The three Premier League games Everton lost directly after winning four and drawing one of their opening five coincided with the ban served by Richarlison following a red card late in the home match against Liverpool.

Explaining how Everton regained their mojo to plot a way back up the table, Richarlison creates an image of a Tour de France rider rejoining the bunch after a puncture.

And he references the iron hand contained in the velvet glove of Ancelotti, who has marked out Richarlison as one of the leaders in this Everton team.

“We fell off a bit and I’m partially responsible for this, I got sent off and it ended up affecting the team,” says Richarlison.

“I see myself as a leader, as well, I know my responsibilities here.

“I have to be responsible and aware of my importance here at the Club.

“But we rediscovered the winning formula and moved into the peloton at the top.

“We’re conscious we have to remain focused and can’t drop the ball again.

“Mr Ancelotti really gets on our case, so we continue training hard and are strong going into games.

"The manager’s arrival was really important for the Club.

“He’s a winner, he instils into the players a strong mentality to win games and that’s what’s happening.

“We have a very good, young team but we’re also aware that we’ve had to suffer for this and now is the time to reap the rewards.

“We know we have the potential to be towards the top and we’ll definitely get there.”

I have to be responsible and aware of my importance here at the Club.

Ancelotti was on Richarlison’s case, as the player has it, following the flat home loss to Newcastle United last month.

The Italian boss was annoyed with every element of his team’s performance but the fact he spoke publicly on Richarlison suggests a footballer who responds to the stick.

Subsequent unstinting efforts against Leeds United and Manchester United – when Everton recovered their real identity at the first time of asking – amounted to everything we’ve come to expect from the 23-year old: the fearlessness and endurance and speed and physicality. 

That was followed by his double in the thrilling 5-4 FA Cup win over Spurs, including a sublime angled finish for his second of the night. And, of course, Richarlison's pinpoint opener in the Blues' 2-0 Merseyside derby success at Anfield last weekend.

Richarlison insists those abortive teenage tryouts, with clubs including Avai and Figueirense, didn’t alter plans to reach the pinnacle of his sport.

The original goal was to acquire a professional contract, followed by a transfer to one of the starry European leagues.

When he talks today in terms of replicating compatriot Ronaldo’s achievements, then, you are compelled to listen.

For the record, the former Real Madrid striker was twice crowned Ballon d’Or winner, won a World Cup with Brazil and scored his goals at a rate of around 0.70 per game.

“The importance of having idols is that we want to do as much as they did in football,” says Richarlison.

“Ronaldo is a good example for me. He’s won numerous trophies, the World Cup, Ballon d’Or, so he’s a role model for any player and I want to follow in his footsteps.

“I want to win everything for Brazil and everything as a player.

“From the moment I decided I wanted to be a footballer, I wanted to achieve great things.

“I knew there’d be rejections and I was prepared for them. 

“It is part of being a footballer, I think anyone who has had a trial has been rejected.

“We’re prepared for it and, thank God, it all worked out and I’m here today, with Everton in the Premier League.

“I think everything’s in place for me to develop under the guidance of Mr Ancelotti.

“If the Professor says I can be a player at the very top, it must be because he’s identified my potential.

“Developing every day is very important to me.

“I have evolved over the three years I’ve been in England, so much so that I made it into the Brazilian team.

“Going forward, I still have a lot more to develop and I should aim high.

“I set myself ambitious goals.

“The most important thing [when experiencing a setback] is having people around you to keep your spirits up.

“Rejection hurts, it hurts your soul. We chase our dreams and suddenly it seems like they’re over.

“We need people who lift us back up and support us in wanting to go again.”

Richarlison was five when Ronaldo obliterated the competition for the 2002 World Cup Golden Boot, scoring eight goals – three more than the next-best pair of Miroslav Klose and Rivaldo – in Brazil’s triumphant tournament.

The lived memories are hazy, then, and his affections ultimately transferred to Neymar, whose imaginative haircuts Richarlison would try to copy.

But the Everton player owns a broader appreciation of football history and its primary architects.

Something Ancelotti is evidently discovering, given Richarlison’s reply to a question about being tutored by a manager with three Champions League titles on his CV.

“It is five,” exclaims Richarlison.

“Five Champions Leagues: two as a player and three as a manager.

“I even joke with him about it and he says it was five not three.

“Ancelotti is like a father figure to everyone here.

“As we’re a young team, he really keeps demanding a lot.

“He’s coached the best players in the world.

“When he was at AC Milan, he coached the Brazilians there and today he says I’m among the top 10 strikers he’s ever trained.

“I was really happy to hear this and I will continue working hard because I have a lot to learn from him and can develop even further.

“The Brazil coach, Tite, is a big fan of Carlo’s as well.

 “Professor Tite spent some time at Real Madrid (where Ancelotti was boss between 2013-2015) observing Professor Ancelotti’s methods.

“If Professor Tite has learned from him, there is a lot more he can teach me.”

The paternal instincts Richarlison spies in Ancelotti – “I practically spend more time with him, here, than I do with my own family, he says to me, ‘Richy, if you’re ever having a party, you better invite me, I’ll be there’” – have worked a treat on Calvert-Lewin.

Ancelotti’s simple instructions, allied to a huge show of faith in the striker, have liberated Calvert-Lewin to score goals in sky-high numbers.

Richarlison shared Everton’s top-scoring honours with the England striker last season and from his first meeting with Calvert-Lewin detected a talent waiting to be unlocked.

“Dominic is in great form and I try to do as much as possible to help him score,” says Richarlison.

“I want him to be top scorer [in the Premier League], not just for me to score goals.

“When I came to Everton, he wasn’t getting many opportunities and now he’s playing and scoring.

“I am not surprised at all.

“As I’ve said to [Everton teammates and countrymen] Allan and Bernard, we’ve witnessed his development.

“Even when he wasn’t playing many games, we saw him in training, we saw him going to the gym every day and joining shooting practice with us at the end of all the sessions.

“This is all the result of his hard work.

“We know what he’s put in here at the Club and now he’s reaping the rewards.

“I hope he continues like this and I want to help him as much as possible.

“And, with James, we’re doing well on the pitch, the link-up is great and our attack is working really well.”

Language and food represented the largest barriers to Richarlison settling in England.

Holed up in a hotel he was existing on hamburgers and dropped five pounds in weight.

It is a measure of his acclimatisation in the intervening period – when Richarlison has become a national teammate of Neymar’s, acquiring 23 caps and scoring eight goals – and the comforting routines established at home in Crosby, that Brazilian produce is delivered from a favourite supplier in London.

In normal times, the food would be transported by Richarlison’s go-to hairdresser – but responsibility for his short trim is falling to Allan for the time being.

It all paints a picture of domestic contentment, enabling Richarlison to focus on football.

The current blitz of fixtures allows time for little else, regardless – and Richarlison is keeping his fingers crossed additional physiotherapy, paid for out of his own pocket, enables him to navigate the logjam unscathed.

“We take things game by game but our goal is to get into the Champions League,” says Richarlison.

"With the squad we have, we’re capable of achieving this.

“It’s what we’re looking for and we’ll work hard, we’re in a really tough run of fixtures and need to stay in good shape.

“I have a physiotherapist at home who looks after my physical fitness.

“It prepares me to go into the game in a good condition.

“All this support at home helps me develop every day. It’s very expensive but worth it as it is a starting point for my development.”

Richarlison’s grasp of English is strengthening, too, although he prefers conversation to proceed at a pace in direct contrast to his rapid movement on the field.

“There’s so much I want to say and I end up getting mixed up,” protests Richarlison.

“I’m doing well, I talk a lot with my teammates.

"I can understand when they speak slowly.

“I ask them to ‘hold on, slow down there’, if they speak really quickly.”

He needn’t worry on those occasions he’s stumped by the language.

Richarlison’s hard running and twinkling feet speak for him and the message is one Evertonians are glad to hear.