“You see in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”
For a brief moment on Saturday afternoon, the heavy grey skies above Leeds seemed to dissipate, leaving a scene straight out of a spaghetti western basking in the glow of the Elland Road floodlights.
Below them, Leeds United’s Raphinha stood by the left touchline with the ball at his feet and squared up to Brighton’s Joel Veltman. The game stopped. Both players stared each other down, motionless, refusing to blink first. Meanwhile, the 20 other players on the pitch left them to it: pistols at dawn.
If broadcasters were truly committed to treating sport as entertainment, it was time to replace the crowd noise with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Soon enough, Veltman discovered he’d brought a knife to a gunfight. At times like these, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
After a moment to decide how to dispose of his doomed adversary, Raphinha approached and Veltman backed off. In a blur of left foot then right, Raphinha drew first. Crucially, he didn’t miss. You dig.
The Brazilian followed up his magic with a wicked cross fired into the penalty, but his moment of inspiration failed to change the pattern of the game. Brighton’s towering defenders cleared, and Leeds remained consigned to attacking from side to side to side again.
A replay showed Leeds substitutes Tyler Roberts and Ian Poveda stood on the touchline staring intently at the skills that are keeping them out of the starting XI.
By the corner flag, Pablo Hernandez watched on with his own Eastwood eyes, yearning for the days when he was Leeds’ chief gunslinger.
What will go down as an incomplete cross sums up the sense that Raphinha is yet to truly explode for the Peacocks, but there have been enough tantalising moments of talent to show why he has already cemented his place in Marcelo Bielsa’s side ahead of the likes of Helder Costa.
After a promising opening to the season, Costa has reverted to the timid winger so often blinded by the same floodlights that Raphinha sparkles under. Dubbed £17million of sauce after his cameo off the bench against Aston Villa, Raphinha’s swagger suggests that had Adidas provided Leeds with a collared shirt this season, the 23-year-old would definitely wear his upturned.
Brighton may have left Elland Road with all three points and Veltman may live to fight another day, but with Raphinha on the loose, full-backs up and down the country now know they’re going to need a loaded gun the next time they face Leeds United.
By Rob Conlon