- Gary Minaghan
- BBC Sport
At the dilapidated red brick bus station in the small Brazilian town of Nova Venice, I witnessed a story worth telling.
From that misty station and the small open-air restaurant where you can eat as much as you want for the equivalent of £ 2, was the starting point for Everton star Richarlison’s journey to the Premier League.
Desperate for the success of his rejection, he was 17 years old, and from here he left his hometown for an 11-hour trip to Belo Horizonte, with borrowed shoes on and not a return ticket.
It was in 2014 that his efforts to join the Effie and Figueres club were fruitless, and his beloved national team was humiliated at home in the World Cup.
In the midst of it all, Richarlison did not attract attention, despite being Real Norwest’s top scorer for the u.20 youth team, and the young striker almost lost hope.
Richarlison saw the bus trip West to test with the second division team America MG as his last big chance, and was determined not to give up.
Pedro Emmanuel, his childhood friend, told BBC Sport: “I remember that day he told me he was going, but he did not have sneakers. In fact, he had black shoes, but they were worn. I said: ‘ Man, here are the blue and pink shoes that jerk All eyes must be on him, we thank the Lord that everything went well. “
It definitely went well and that experience eventually led to 5 consecutive Premier League seasons with Watford and Everton.
Internationally, Richarlison has won the Copa America with the Brazilian team and won the gold medal at the 2020 Olympic Games, and he will play with his country’s team at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
However, everything could have been completely different.
Richarlison’s parents divorced when he was six and he lived with his father, Antonio, for 3 years and worked on his grandfather’s farm, helping to pick the coffee beans and undertaking long trips every weekend to play football matches.
At the age of seven, people asked Antonio to invest in his son because he has a special talent, and the father responded by buying 10 soccer balls and sending his son to live with his aunt in Nova Venice.
“We were very poor at the time,” Antonio, in the training uniform of the Nova Venezia club he heads and whose son is an ambassador, told BBC Sport.
He added, “It was a very difficult childhood for him and also difficult for me because we lived in the country and every week we had to climb on the back of a truck to get to where the football matches are played, and people however, kept saying he had a future in football, so when he was nine years old, I left him with my sister. “
Richarlison helped run his business selling ice cream and chocolate on the street, washing cars, working with his uncle Elton in a cafe, and trying to work as a construction assistant.
While Antonio admits his son was not the most well-educated student at his school, staff at Tito dos Santos Neves, in the Rubella slum, describe a polite, football-loving boy with yellow-colored hair as his favorite star Neymar.
The school guard remembers how he passed by the front gates every day and ran straight into the backyard to play football while the teachers remembered his humility and good manners.
“He did not like studying, but he was not undisciplined,” said Elisangela Monteiro Gede, who taught Richarlison when he was 11 years old.
“He was always well behaved, he was by no means a rebellious boy. He respected his teachers and he drew it from his medical family, and surely, at the time and in that area, he might have been involved in drugs and violence, but he always managed to avoid it, “she added.
In fact, he could not always avoid it.When Richarlison was 14, a local drug dealer held a gun to his face and thought he was the Richalison boy trying to deal drugs in his neighborhood.
Antonio recalls that the school called him on another occasion after police arrested his son in the street.
“We were worried because the area was dangerous at the time,” Antonio says. “It was more than just making him wrong because he was at the wrong time and place. Unfortunately, many of his friends strayed from the right path.”
Richarlison admits Fidel Carvalho, his first youth coach who is a police officer, to help get away from a life of crime. Carvalho’s motto was “Never give up”.
Richarlison remembers that coach who loaded 8 of the team into a Volkswagen after a final out of town, and they came back victorious.
Richarlison, at the age of 16, played in the u.20s as an amateur for Real Norwest, where his strength and way of playing was an issue, even for those three years older than him.
However, things ended badly when the club’s negotiations for a transfer to Club America MG in 2014 were about to unravel.
After much negotiation, Real Norwest were allowed to retain some of their rights, but the club’s position 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.
Richarlison easily adapted to life at Club America MG when he joined the u.17 team before quickly going on to play in the u-20 category after scoring 4 goals in his first appearance in 4 matches.
Euler de Almeida Araujo, coach of America MG, remembers admiring Richarlison’s strength and determination as he ran up and down the cobbled streets of Nova Venice. Weeks later, he trained with the first team.
“He played on the wing where a lot of mistakes were made against him, but he rarely fell,” said Araujo.
He added, “The defenders would hit him and he would fall. You would think he was hurt, but he got up again and went forward. He never gave up. He was like Ronaldo in his early youth, that physical strength and determination at such a young age. “
Richarlison’s competitiveness was not limited to football. Silvio Junio Nunes da Silva, a massage therapist for Team America MG, recalls that he had to take his young son to work the night before the game.
“Richardison played PlayStation, so my son asked if he could play too,” he says.
He continued, “I let them play, but when I came back Richarlison won 11-0. I said, ‘Enough man …’ But he was ruthless. He wanted to keep recording and keep going. “He was 17, my son was seven.” of his age..and that desire to win was in his blood. “
Marcelo Toscano played for Richarlison up front in 2015 when Team America MG was promoted to Serie A in Brazil.
He is remembered as a talented, humble player with a big nose.
Marcello Toscano said: “It was so much fun, we always joked back and forth. At the time we called him a toucan. I mean, his nose is not that small, is it?”
He added, “I said from the start he will go far because of his work ethic, determination, talent and humility. We scored a lot of goals that season and it is no coincidence that he is in his place today.”
Richarlison stayed at America MG for just one year, scoring nine goals in 24 games before being sold to Fluminense at the age of just 18 for 10 million Brazilian riyals (worth £ 1.6 million today), and in 2017 he moved to the team moved to Watford, England, for £ 11.5m.
Talk to anyone at Club America MG and they’ll have a story to share about their famous former teammate and his down-to-earth appearance.
For example, when a young player in America receives MG his first professional salary, club rules stipulate that he leave the academy residences to make room for someone else.
But Richarlison, rather than renting the beautiful apartment his agent specified, chose to stay with his teammates and the rat who hung out in the bedrooms at night. He withdrew only 20 percent of his first salary and used the rest to support his family.
“He was a very simple and humble person and a very good person who helped everyone he could help,” said Zee Ricciardo, a quarterback for Team America MG who lived with Richarlison in the academy residence.
He added: “The boys who do not have sneakers, he gave them his shoes. He has a very kind heart.”
This humility and compassion remained in him even as his career progressed.
Antonio adds: “He had a close relationship with his grandfather and his great-grandfather, and everyone said the same things about him in terms of humility and hard work. We always taught him to carry it with him. Even today , I always say he should not lose that essence. ”
He added: “When he comes to Nova Venice, he helps with everything he can, and if it depends on him, he would still walk through the streets in light shoes and play football with the children in the field, just like he did. previously. Unfortunately, it became much more dangerous for him. Now, so he does it online. “
And few, if any, active players are as hard as Richarlison when it comes to social issues.
He has helped raise awareness and raise funds across a wide range of charities active in many areas, including the fight against deforestation, the rape crisis in Brazil, the fight against COVID-19, and the importance of participating in this year’s to vote for presidential election. .
And in 2019, shortly after paying a group of Brazilian students to travel to Taiwan to take part in an international maths competition, he was awarded the highest honor of an athlete in his home state, Espirito Santo. When asked for the opportunity to speak, he urged the regional government to increase investment in education.
A year later, he was named Everton champion in the PFA after arranging a charity match in Nova Venezia that provided 6.4 tons of food to the needy.
He said in statements to the club’s official website: “We all play in the big leagues and we have a space in the media, we have a big social responsibility.”
“At first I just wanted to buy a house for my parents, but then I saw I could do bigger things,” he added.
As Everton fight relegation this season with rumors circulating that Richarlison is leaving the club and a possible meeting with Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain, no one can question his commitment as he continues to make his mark all over the field. to print.
This may not be the trait often associated with Brazilian soccer players, but it bodes well for his chances of success at the World Cup later this year.
“He’s been dreaming about it since he was a kid watching Ronaldo in 2002,” Antonio says as he stands some distance from the red brick bus stop where it all began. I always told him he would play in the World Cup, and I also told him he would be the top scorer, so let’s see. “