How much is Raphinha worth?
The gossip is flying over Yorkshire, and the good word is that Leeds United want at least €55m for Raphinha, their 25-year-old wide man and Brazil international. He racked up seven non-penalty goals and three assists for Leeds in roughly 3,000 league minutes last season, which is nothing to write home about. But could he turn out to be much more valuable to a club with a stronger squad?
Raphinha played at both RW and RM/RWB for Leeds last season, and the Premier League players with the most similar styles (judged only by the frequencies of various actions) aren't exactly at the top of anyone's £47m shopping list. For example, here are Raphinha's stats compared with those of Marc Albrighton at RW:
Of course, the comparison only goes so far. Even though the frequencies of the actions we track are similar, and both players have low ball retention and weak defending, Raphinha's attacking output is much higher in our models. He's also more skillful on the ball in 1v1s. Yet he's been a poor finisher lately – one big reason for his low goals return. Here's how we tracked Raphinha's finishing though his two seasons in the Premier League:
He started out pretty average and had a good spell midway through the last campaign, but he only scored two non-penalty goals in 2022. So our rating of finishing skill, which handicaps Raphinha's chance of scoring with his next shot and standardizes for his position – as an attacker – is low.
At RM/RWB, Raphinha's style is closest to that of Dwight McNeil, a smarterscout young prospect:
McNeil's attacking output is well above average but still below the extraordinary numbers that Raphinha supplies from the position. Both players are aggressive dribblers and progressive passers who get off a huge number of shots as well. Perhaps surprisingly, McNeil is currently rated as the better finisher, despite not scoring in 2021-22. But he scored well over the odds (at least for non-headers in open play) in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, so his rating had some distance to fall. He's also three years younger than Raphinha.
Clearly, Raphinha can be a big difference-maker at RM/RWB. The only problem here is that Mikel Arteta's Arsenal usually starts games with orthodox wingers and fullbacks playing behind them. In the more advanced role, Raphinha has been less effective... so far. Could he become more effective with better players around him?
There's one reason to think that the answer might be yes. Raphinha is an exceptionally effective passer. Because of his speed, he can blow past defenders into open space before passing. This makes his passes that much more dangerous. In fact, among players with 500+ passes (excluding corners) in the attacking half during the 2021-22 season, Raphinha ranked fifth for contributions to expected goals via ball progression per pass. But if we measure his contributions to shot creation – that is, from passes that actually led to shots – then he ranked 18th.
In other words, Raphinha completed passes into dangerous areas on the pitch, but his teammates had trouble turning those passes – completed passes, mind you – into high-quality shots. With more skillful players receiving his passes, Raphinha's attacking output rating in our shot creation model could rise. Right now it's 43, versus 70 in our ball progression model. The average is his rating on our platform.
This is a key point for a club like Arsenal, which has been looking at Raphinha and also trying to find a striker to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. If they can't find a top player to work alongside him, then Raphinha's abilities might go to waste. And it can't just be a towering centre-forward who lives off crosses, either. Raphinha's crosses weren't particularly effective last season, nor were his corners. His effectiveness had more to do with incisive passing when he came inside, especially from RM/RWB:
Again, will this work for Arsenal? Arteta has often played a 4-1-4-1 with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka playing extremely wide – but Raphinha will need more flexibility in positioning to be at his best. It's also hard to imagine Raphinha playing as a striker, given his finishing problems. Then there's the question of Raphinha's ball retention. Does he take too many risks for a club that usually has the advantage in possession?
These are questions worth pondering for Arsenal, who won't want to make another Nicolas Pepe-sized mistake. The gossip also suggests that Barcelona are interested. For a club with no financial room to maneuver, where ball retention is prized even more, the stakes would be higher still.
If Raphinha plays only as well as he has at Leeds, then based on his metrics he might have a value on the level of Felipe Anderson or perhaps Domenico Berardi. If his numbers do indeed improve at a club like Arsenal, then he might justify the reported price tag. And if he plays RM/RWB, his metrics put him in a league of his own, with only Ivan Perisic close by – at least, except for the finishing. Perisic commanded €19m back in 2015, when he was close to Raphinha in age. That fee might be doubled in today's market. But however you look at it, there's a fair amount of uncertainty. One more roll of the dice at the Emirates?
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