The new R9 and the story of short-lived genius
It’s a tale as old as time, the story of short-lived success. Throughout history we have seen civilisations and great figures rise and fall, mimicking and mirroring the fateful flight of Icarus. Tales of those surpassing all expectation before becoming tales of the past like the traces of Ozymandias. Of course, this has been reflected in the stories of modern day gladiators: players far outstripping all pre-conceived notions of their ability before returning to their average level of craftsmanship. Across sport we have seen players such as Jeremy Lin causing ‘Linsanity’, while players such as Michu set fire to the Premier League with a temporary but bright flame.
This flame often shines most brightly amongst the cauldron of the World Cup. Within the intensity and ferocity of the world’s biggest tournament, single moments of magic can define careers, teams or even nations. Often times, this flair for the dramatic causes theatrical upsets and short lived genius thrives with rising stars entering the stage.
In the controversial 2022 edition of sport’s greatest show, a new protagonist emerged. Donning the iconic Brazilian number nine shirt, Richarlison became one of the most iconic players of the tournament. A player, who was questioned for even participating, arguably defined his team’s run to the quarter finals.
It’s not as if Richarlison shouldn’t have been there, or that he is surpassing his talent to a great extent. The Brazilian moved between Everton and Tottenham for £50 million in the summer, and netted 10 goals in the 2021/22 edition of the Premier League. However the World Cup is normally dominated by the best of the best, and Richarlison has failed to register a single Premier League goal since his move. In 15 appearances this campaign, Richarlison has only managed to net twice, with both of his goals coming in Europe. He has also struggled for game time, with less than 500 minutes in the league almost equal to his numbers in UEFA’s premier club competition.
However, representing La Seleção, Richarlison appeared to be a different beast entirely. Three goals in four appearances, including a sensational overhead kick in Brazil’s opening game and finishing a sublime team goal in the round of 16, meant Richarlison surpassed his goal tally for his club this season in Brazil’s short-lived World Cup campaign.
After scoring one of the best goals in the tournament and becoming the driving force behind the team’s ill-fated push for a sixth star above their badge, Richarlison seemed set to mimick the stories of the short-lived genius of the past. ‘The streets won’t forget’ players such as Adel Taarabt or Miguel Almiron who become synonymous with a moment due to the surprising genius they display, and Richarlison seems to potentially fall into this bracket. A player who can temporarily and unexpectedly perform like one of the greatest in the world.
Mirroring R9 for the winter was probably a Christmas wish turned reality
However, it may be more accurate to characterise his recent impressive performances with those of legendary Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, or English centre-half Harry Maguire, players who seemingly mutate when they hear their national anthem playing. Many called for players like Roberto Firmino or Gabriel Jesus to start for La Seleção, but with a record of nearly a goal every other game for the Samba Stars, Richarlison is building an impressive portfolio of performances. Performances which seem to be far away from his actions in North London.
Mirroring the stories of Clark Kent and Superman, Richarlison provides an angle to Brazil that his club side do not utilise. He can provide a focal point for the Samba style of football, wearing the iconic number of el Phenonenon, whereas Tottenham are centred around Harry Kane. He may lack the ability of his club teammate, but for Brazil, Richarlison was arguably more crucial to his team’s efforts than Kane was to England’s.
Brazil’s 4-1 demolition of South Korea in the round of 16 provided another stage for Richarlison to light up, with the stunning team goal scored a prime example of his brilliance. The Spurs forward helped string the attack together, dragging defenders out of position to let the trick-filled wingers work their magic. A goal and assist helped stake his place at the top of Brazil’s 4-2-3-1, and while Neymar is the star of the team, Richarlison doesn’t need to sit in such a throne to enter the history books.
Icons are made within the World Cup; images of Mario Götze are still framed in the galleries of unforgettable World Cup moments after he secured a fourth championship victory for his nation, and stories of Diego Forlan defined 2010. Brazil’s Icarus does not dance with fate with wings of wax, but rather with the wings of a pigeon as Brazil departed earlier than they perhaps deserved to.
Whether Richarlison played so much better as a result of the system, the talent around him, national pride, or sheer luck, it is hard to say. The answer probably lies somewhere deep within the middle. I doubt that those who celebrated his performances on the streets of Rio will mind, or that Richarlison will care either way, as mirroring R9 for the winter was probably a Christmas wish turned reality.