How Barcelona’s Raphinha turned his season into a dream move after a tough start

The Roman Emperor Augustus, according to historical accounts, yelled a particular phrase at military commanders guilty of reckless acts: festina lente.

Its translation from Latin could be something like “Hurry up slowly”. The message should be: There is no surer way to success than making quick decisions in peace.

Less than three weeks ago, Barcelona manager Xavi might have said the same thing to Raphinha.

He included the Brazilian in his starting XI for Barca’s away game against Girona on January 28, a huge chance for the Brazilian to impress. And then the team’s in-form winger Ousmane Dembele was sent off injured after 26 minutes.

That meant Raphinha was even more in the spotlight. The former Leeds winger was substituted off in the 88th minute after losing 24 turnovers, the highest such number among his team-mates of the season at the time.

It was a fearful and disappointing performance but after the match Xavi stood up for him.

“I have great faith in Raphinha,” said the manager. “His numbers are not bad at all. As with the team in general, he needs to do more in attack, which we lacked; to be braver and less afraid of missing the last pass.

“But it’s not about Raphinha. We need that as a team.”

It may not have sounded too surprising that a manager would be so openly supportive of a player. But it accurately reflects what the club said away from the mics and cameras. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find exactly the same thing.

Around the same time, a Barca first-team source who was preferred to speak to anonymously the athlete to defend her position, Raphinha said: “It’s just a matter of trust. His level is really very high.

“From what we’ve seen of him over the last few years and what we’ve seen in training, we believe he will end up adding a lot of goals and assists to this team.”

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Raphinha arrived in Spain with added pressure. He was Barca’s most expensive signing last summer at €58m (£51.2m; $62.1m) plus €7m in benefits. A lot has been spent on him in a time when money is tight.

Xavi and his backroom staff had started to monitor the Brazilian closely as soon as Dembele showed signs he would not sign a renewal back in June.

Barcelona assumed Dembele had an agreement with another club, so they started thinking about a new winger. President Joan Laporta’s relationship with the player’s agent, former footballer Deco, put Raphinha’s name on the table. Xavi paid close attention to every game at Leeds and was convinced by what he saw.

Since taking charge in November 2021, one of Xavi’s priorities has been bringing talent to the front lines. In January 2022, Ferran Torres joined from Manchester City for €55m – including surcharges which have since risen to €62m. Because of this, although Dembele eventually agreed to an extension, Barcelona decided to opt for Raphinha as well.

Raphinha had other offers but always wanted to fulfill his desire to play for Barca. It was a dream train. But it wasn’t a dream start.


Barcelona were eliminated from the Champions League group stage in the autumn (Photo: David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Raphinha was in Barca’s starting eleven in six of the first nine La Liga games of the season, recording one goal and one assist, while in the Champions League poor results at Bayern Munich and in both games with Inter Milan saw Barca fail. In La Liga, Real Madrid won the first Clasico of the season 3-1 at the Bernabeu. Raphinha started in all of those games and in three of the four he was the first player that Xavi replaced.

“Being substituted in the 60th minute of every game didn’t help him mentally,” says a source close to the player, who preferred to speak anonymously to protect his position.

“He probably felt an even greater need to prove his point. He wanted to do everything too quickly.”

The same source close to Raphinha says the desire to prove himself has let the player down in the past. They say he enjoys watching compilations of the best moments of his career to motivate himself and serve as a reminder of the player he can be.

He has also taken other measures to improve his game. In addition to club meetings, since October he has been working with Global Performance, a personal training team, to optimize his physical preparation and receive additional physiotherapy treatments.

There’s no doubting Raphinha’s hard work off the pitch. But the 3-1 defeat in Madrid on October 16 can now be seen as a turning point in his season. He only started again for Barca until the first league game after the World Cup on December 31 against Espanyol.

After Qatar 2022, Xavi switched his system to play with just one winger. With his impressive performances after the domestic restart, it seemed like Dembele had made that spot his own.

Then came the second chance.

Since that game against Girona, when Dembele was sent off injured and Raphinha failed to shine, the Brazilian has started three more games and been directly involved in three goals – scoring two and assisting another.

He was also linked with the move on Sunday at Villarreal, which saw Robert Lewandowski and Pedri jointly score the winner as Barca moved 11 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

If Dembele returns, the picture could change again. Both he and Raphinha prefer to play on the right. The Frenchman is valued for his versatility, although despite trying Raphinha on both wings, he’s seen as more comfortable on the right flank.

Raphinha and Dembele in La Liga and UCL (Source: FBRef)














How they compare in the future…



progressive wears

Progressive distance traveled (yards)

Is carried into the last third

Will be carried in the box














… and in defense


Blocked Passports

Blocked shots











But Raphinha has more on the defensive side in his favor. A Barca dressing room source, who has preferred to speak anonymously to protect her position, says: “There aren’t many wingers in the world, if any, doing the defensive work and deployment of Raphinha.”

And today, few doubt he will start Thursday’s Europa League home game against Manchester United. His debut season in Spain was something of a rollercoaster ride and now he’s on the way up.

Raphinha and his family see each other at Barca in the long term. They feel comfortable. For the first time in years, Raphinha is at a club he can really see himself staying at. After leaving Vitoria Guimaraes in 2018, he never spent more than two seasons at the same club, moving to Sporting Lisbon, to Rennes, to Leeds.

He is described as having a calm presence in the dressing room, a cheerful personality and a joker, but not someone who needs to be the center of attention. Some of his closest friends in the squad are Ronald Araujo, third-choice goalkeeper Arnau Tenas Ansu Fati and French speakers Franck Kessie and Jules Kounde.

“As long as he played his part, he knew deep down the opportunity was coming,” said a source close to the player, who preferred to speak anonymously to protect his position.

Another chance comes on Thursday when all eyes are on the Camp Nou.

(Top Photo: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) How Barcelona’s Raphinha turned his season into a dream move after a tough start

Russell Falcon

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