Soccer

Leeds winger Raphinha credits V�rzea tournaments for his success

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Raphinha of Leeds United celebrates after scoring their team's fifth goal during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United at The Hawthorns on December 29, 2020 in West Bromwich, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Raphinha rose to fame last year as he helped Leeds United stay in the Premier League. In just the team’s first year back, they finished 9th while exceeding expectations after a 16-year absence from the top flight.

Alongside�surprise star Patrick Bamford, the Brazilian winger also had a large part in the team as he scored six times while dishing out nine assists. However, his story is different than many of his teammates. Rather than taking a traditional path to the pros,�he credits amateur “v�rzea” tournaments with helping him develop.

In Brazil, these tournaments catered to amateur players looking for pro contracts. According to Raphinha, the level came nowhere near the quality of pro academies, but it had a stricter element.

Often, he received death threats from the crowds. The threats came all while the players were primarily teenagers simply trying to go pro.

His description of the tournaments says enough about their often cutthroat players and crowds.

“It really is the Wild West, man. It’s like a network of independent matches and tournaments organized by the local community. The level is a lot lower than at the academies.

Any player can just turn up; you don’t even need a contract. You play on clay, burning heat, dust, and sand. Someone will bring a ball from home. Often there are no nets, just the posts. Bibs?

Forget about it. One team just plays shirtless. And these players are the rejects, man. They play with anger. They play to survive like their lives depend on it.”

Raphinha

Unfortunately, the absence of crowds last season meant Raphinha couldn’t take advantage of his past experiences in the v�rzea scene. However, this year is already different as fans grace Premier League stadiums again.

Perhaps Leeds can exceed expectations once again in a crowd-filled season. After all, to him, hostile crowds do nothing but help his game.

“I’m still very proud that I played in so many v�rzea tournaments. And honestly, I loved it. Those games made me so tough. When I play now, I want to be booed. I want the pressure and the intimidation. That’s what gets me going.”

Raphinha

Raphinha picked up where he left off last season as he already scored a superb goal in just the team’s second game. However, Leeds lies in 15th place and is yet to win a match. Luckily, 36 more games line the schedule for Raphinha and company as they hope to build off an impressive last season.

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