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The new Ronaldo comes of age at Qatar 2022: Richarlison confirms on the biggest of stages

Underneath the gold and green traditional Brazilian shirt, the heart pumps faster. And in Richarlison’s case, the tattoo of a heart on his left pectoral muscle also reveals his country’s symbol, the blue disc containing the words “Order and Progress”.

The depiction of the Brazilian flag close to his heart just underlines the love the excellent striker, who was the subject of a move of $70 million from Everton to Tottenham earlier this summer, has for his home country.

But it was not always plain sailing for Richarlison, a bona fide star in the Premier League, who is now on the top of the world, after opening his account at the FIFA World Cup with an astonishing brace against Serbia, the second goal being an instant classic, an insane scissor kick, surely worthy of a Brazil number 9.

Sure, Brazil secured a winning start at Qatar 2022, 2-0, in an excellent show of domination, with all the players performing at a high level. Undoubtedly, Richarlison was the true star of the team.

Yet like all Brazilian stars, his origins are humble, his life is one of hardship, with plenty of luck, a lot of talent, and hard work mixed together to bring a lovely character to life.

His adventure in football started in Nova Venecia, a small town on the Eastern coast of Brazil, which hardly features any stars. With no football team to support young players, like in other regions of Brazil, poverty and crime were rife, with children sucked into the vortex.

“A lot of my childhood friends are in prison. Others are dead. I could easily have gone down that path. People used to call me ‘scumbag’ or ‘trouble-maker’ when I walked down the street. But I didn’t listen to the negative voices,” Richarlison told SporTV in 2018, when he joined Everton, after starring for Watford in the Premier League.

His parents broke up when he was six years old so he spent several years living with his father, Antonio, working on his grandfather’s farm and helping harvest coffee beans. On the weekends, he spent hundreds of kilometres on the bus, trying to find his way in football.

“It was a very difficult childhood for him and difficult for me too because we lived in the countryside and every week we had to climb on the back of a lorry to get to football matches. People kept saying he had a future though, so when he turned nine I left him with my sister,” said Richarlison’s father, Antonio, for the BBC.

Indeed, life could have totally been different for Richarlison, especially after being rejected by Avai and Fluminense when he was only 14 years old. It was a tough blow for a simple kid, which could have simply turned him to a totally different life. But when he was held at gunpoint, with a gun stuck to his head, he knew he had to work harder.

Instead, Richarlison joined América Mineiro, a team that celebrated its centenary and produced excellent players like Tostao, Gilberto Silva or Fred. Back then, America was in the second Brazilian league and the tall and talented striker just helped them gain promotion in 2015.

It was Richarlison’s last chance at football, taking an 11-hour bus trip to Belo Horizonte with nothing but a pair of borrowed boots from his best friend – his own boots were falling apart – and no money for a return ticket. It was make or break for the young player.

Soon, every powerhouse from Brazil had Richarlison on their radar. And the striker did not hold a grudge, when Fluminense, the team that rejected him a few years before, came calling. With a $2 million transfer fee, he joined the Rio de Janeiro side and went on to make a name for himself.

A down-to-earth guy, the striker did not move into a posh penthouse in Rio, rather than buying a flat in the “Tanque” neighborhood. “I want to live in simplicity,” said the striker to Brazilian outlet “Globo Esporte”.

Soon, comparisons arrived. He was dubbed the “new Ronaldo” or the “new Romario”, in a football-crazed country that always looked for a new idol, for a new number 9 that was going to light up Brazil.

A move to Watford, in the Premier League, followed, as the English team paid $13 million for him. Everton snatched him up a year later for a $60 million transfer fee. Tottenham signed him for $65 million just this summer.

With the brace against Serbia, Brazil might just got their hero, as Richarlison is definitely a star in the making and was hailed as Brazil’s next hero, in a talent-packed squad, that looks primed to win another edition of the FIFA World Cup.

Yet the player still is down to earth, still staying true to himself and helping others every given time.

When he was at America Mineiro, he got a shipment of clothes from his sponsor, took his old clothes and donated them to homeless people.

In 2019, shortly after paying for a group of Brazilian students to fly to Taiwan to compete in an international maths quiz, he broke protocol when receiving the most prestigious honour available to an athlete in his home state of Espirito Santo. Requesting the chance to address the floor, he urged the regional government to invest more in education.

These stories just add to the myth. But the truth is, Richarlison is already a star in his own making.

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