On a cold Liverpudlian Monday night, the excitement and tension that only football can conjure up kept those at Goodison Park warm as Richarlison’s Everton beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Premier League.
Demarai Gray’s injury-time rocket was the final piece of kindling thrown onto the bonfire, giving Rafa Benitez’s side a much-needed win as he continued his bid for ‘Best Signing of the Season’ following his £1.7million move from Bayer Leverkusen.
But all night Richarlison had been providing the sparks and, for the sake of a few centimetres, last night we could have been talking about his hat-trick sinking the Gunners, about how the Brazilian is the shining light of a paradoxical Everton side managed by their rival’s second-greatest 21st-century manager.
Twice he strayed offside and twice VAR denied him, but there was relief when he rose to head home his third goal of a hat-trick that wasn’t as he, and Everton, continue their fight to regain respect.
Richarlison has long existed in a purgatory between being a good player and a great one. He is in a weird position, not young enough to be considered a wonderkid, but still has plenty of time to live up to his undeniable talent and potential.
In form, he is a joy to watch, with technique and flair indicative of his Brazilian style and a powerful, accurate style of strike in which he wraps his whole body, not just his foot, around the ball.
Perhaps it is easier to consider him in Fantasy Premier League terms; a fantastic differential asset to have when he is firing, but frustrating when he blanks given his price point.
In part, his situation comes down to the teams he is a part of; a Brazil squad that is good but not yet great, and an Everton side that has good players and spends a lot of money but is not a good team, where he is by far its biggest, and it would be fair to say best, player.
Richarlison now has 50 goals in English club football across his time with Watford and Everton – a pretty good mix of right foot, left foot and headers, too. pic.twitter.com/3eYdiramwd
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) December 6, 2021
Last night was almost an embodiment of his situation. Thrice he scored and yet only once did it count, all good goals too.
The first was a well-taken header, a part of his game few others with his technique with his feet can claim, in which he evaded the Arsenal defence to almost gracefully slide it into the far corner.
His joy was brief; VAR showed he had gone half a second too early and had strayed offside. Moments later, Arsenal had the lead on the stroke of half time.
If you could describe what you expect a Richarlison goal to look like, the second one was it. Drifting unmarked into the half-space he was found by Abdoulaye Doucoure, and after one touch to steady himself, Everton’s talismanic Brazilian fired home with power and placement.
He looked behind to see that, yes, the flag had stayed down but of course soon VAR revealed that, no, the goal would not stand.
Finally, his third counted, and this was probably his best. Gray’s curling effort rebounded high off the crossbar, a shot that prophesied what was the come, but Richarlison had followed it all the way.
He diligently stared down the line when Gray fired and, knowing he would not be offside this time, followed the ball in. He reacted first when it rebounded off the crossbar, rising to loop the header over Aaron Ramsdale and in.
It was anything but a tap-in, as Jamie Carragher attested on Monday Night Football.
“That header is unbelievable. To be coming at him at that pace and to actually control it,” he said.
“Any lower, the keeper gets it; any higher, you think it’s hitting the crossbar or it’s going over – that is an unbelievable finish.”
— SUPER FAST PL GOALS (@jdjdiidk) December 6, 2021
Everton needed the win that Gray’s promised screamer gave them. Like Richarlison they are fighting for respect; a big club, huge even, permanently stuck in a mid-table whirlpool that drags them back in every time they nearly escape it.
They will be thankful that the same is also true when they threaten to be spat out into relegation fodder, however; no matter what, the whirlpool drags them back.
Arsenal, too, find themselves fighting for lost respect. If they want Champions League football they have to win games like that, or at least perform better. They seem destined to succumb to their own whirlpool once more, that of Europa League obscurity, which they have benefitted from being free of this season.
But unlike the two clubs, Richarlison can break free from his purgatory. The talent of a great player is there, but he will likely have to leave Everton to finally cross the threshold permanently.
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Some Arsenal fans will no doubt suggest they would be a good destination, but his talent deserves a better chance.
He is not deserving of a starter spot at a bigger club, but a move to one where he can first prove himself and then breakthrough is surely on the cards.
A reunion with Ancelotti at Real? A squad role at PSG? All of these have been rumoured before and all would be interesting moves. A good World Cup, which barring injury he will be at, could be the trigger.
For now, he must continue to turn out for Everton, a club to whom he has taken a shine to and who love him in turn.
Both have ambitions above where they’re currently at, but if you were to put a bet on it, you would say Richarlison’s ambitions are the more likely to be fulfilled.
By Patrick Ryan