LONDON (Reuters) - Watford’s young forward Richarlison was a relative unknown when he arrived in England but the exciting Brazilian has grabbed the headlines in the opening few months of the season.
While the Premier League has been a step too far for some of the world’s promising talent, the 20-year-old, in only his third season as a professional, has quickly fitted into the English game as he prepares for the visit of Stoke City on Saturday.
It has not been an easy journey for Watford’s close-season signing, though. Richarlison had to avoid getting involved in drugs and had a gun pointed at his head as a youngster, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph last week.
A decision to move hundreds of miles away from his home town of Nova Venecia to join America Mineiro set him on his way.
“He comes from a humble background,” his agent Renato Velasco told Reuters. “He started playing football from a very young age, and left the tough environment he grew up in. He was determined and left home. That gave him that desire.”
His determination earned Richarlison a move to Brazilian top flight side Fluminense, where his powerful physique ensured he went straight into the first team and the goals kept on flowing. It was not long before he sparked interest from Europe.
“Normally, if you look at great Brazilian attackers who went to Europe, they had difficulties adapting,” Fluminense head coach Abel Braga told Reuters.
“Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, a series of players. But Richarlison is an athlete. He is very strong physically, and likes the duel with defenders.”
While Richarlison has the samba-style trickery many Brazilians are blessed with, his combative streak persists. No player has drawn more fouls in the Premier League this season -- he is the target for defenders who see him as a threat.
“The Brazilian league has improved a lot,” Velasco added. “In general, players are more like athletes now. They are stronger, so (English) Premier League clubs are more willing to buy players straight from Brazil. Gabriel Jesus started that.”
Jesus has made an impressive start to his career at Manchester City who he joined from Palmeiras in January.
However, Watford almost missed out on Richarlison. Ajax seemed set to take him to Amsterdam in the close season, but a phone call from Watford boss Marco Silva changed things.
“Silva said, ‘We believe in you, you have what it takes. So come join us’.” Velasco said. “He told Richarlison that (Watford’s Brazilian keeper) Heurelho Gomes would help him settle.
”The club makes him Brazilian food. He lives with me, I am with him morning, afternoon and night. Everything is in place so he can settle.”
Richarlison has done more than settle. He has three league goals already while his inch-perfect assist for Watford’s second in the 4-2 defeat at Chelsea last weekend -- his second assist this season -- showed he has finesse to match his physicality.
“He is a sensational guy, a good boy,” Fluminense’s Braga said. “Very hardworking and always available for training. He was a very dear player here in Brazil and already has this affection also in England.”
That affection is palpable around the dressing room.
“The English players in the squad love him,” Velasco added. “His character and attitude is the best. Everything is fine for him. Nothing goes to his head. That is why he has adapted so quickly in the Premier League. He is so flexible.”
Richarlison missed two glorious chances at Chelsea and many with a weaker character would have let such profligacy affect their game but the Brazilian, having overcome such hardship to achieve his dreams, will not let anything stand in his way.
Reporting by Peter Hall; editing by Ken Ferris