Leeds United are at risk of suffering from the infamous second-season syndrome in the Premier League as they sit perilously in 15th place, just five points above the relegation zone.
Marcelo Bielsa has suffered from an injury crisis to several key stars for the bulk of the campaign so far and with multiple teams below them holding at least one game in hand, things are not looking good for the Yorkshiremen heading into 2022.
But for all of the negatives at Elland Road this term, there has been at least one shining light – Raphinha.
The Brazilian winger, who joined in a £17m deal from Stade Rennes in October 2020, has not only excelled but has also emerged as one of the club’s most integral players.
United have struggled for goals in the absence of Patrick Bamford, who has missed 12 of 13 league games since mid-September. Indeed, only five teams have scored fewer times than Bielsa’s side, two of which are in the drop zone.
However, Raphinha has stepped up to become the Whites’ leading scorer, finding the net eight times, which accounts for 44.4% of all of their goals scored this term in the top-flight.
An average of three shots per game sees him lead the squad as Bielsa’s most threatening player, whilst 2.4 dribbles and 1.8 key passes per outing – which also sees him rank first – suggests he’s doing more than just adding goals to the side. He’s the Argentine’s most creative option, too.
Raphinha’s form at Elland Road has seen him called up to the Brazil national side for the very first time, and he has since landed five caps, in which he’s delivered two goals and two assists. It’s been quite a year for the 5 foot 9 dynamo.
Those around him in the squad have regularly waxed lyrical about his ability, ranging from summer signing Daniel James dubbing him “a magician” to goalkeeper Illan Meslier describing him as an “unbelievable player” and “a storm.”
Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Phil Hay recently emphasised his importance to Leeds.
“Phillips is the player whom Leeds miss most but, in an attacking sense, Raphinha is consistently head and shoulders above everyone. Even aside from his touch and his vision, he has the most incredible engine.”
After a stunning year in United colours, the Brazil international’s transfer value has now soared to an all-time high of £36m, as per Transfermarkt, meaning the Yorkshire giants have made a 111% return on their investment so far.
Therefore, it cannot be disputed, Leeds have struck gold and potentially a dream deal in signing Raphinha last year. Well done, Victor Orta. What a player he has been.