Brazilian forward Richarlison has completed his £60 million move from Everton to Tottenham. The medical has been completed, the paperwork has been signed, and Richie himself has already said goodbye to the Everton fans. We’ve even seen Tottenham’s official announcement video, which will surely sting the eyes of scores of Everton fans around the world.
On the surface, there’s nothing too remarkable about a team like Everton selling a player like Richarlison to a team like Tottenham. There are distinct hierarchies in the Premier League, and they all but demand the kind of player movement on display here. A bottom-table team selling a 25-year-old forward who scored 10 goals in the previous season to a Top 4 team that is arming up for a Champions League run is just the way of the world, and in the end it serves the interests of all parties. The player gets a chance to play for a trophy, the Top 4 team gets the reinforcements it will need for a challenging season, and the bottom-feeder gets a cash injection that it can use to try and rebalance a clearly broken squad. But from Everton’s perspective, it’s hard to take this sale as just routine business.
The word “talisman” gets thrown around a lot in English soccer as a descriptor of certain types of players. Its definition can be tough to nail down, as it doesn’t merely refer to a team’s best player, and it doesn’t necessarily identify a team’s leader or captain. “Talismanic” is a moniker that gets applied through feeling rather than the checking of various boxes. You know it when you see it, in other words.
During the four seasons Richarlison spent in Liverpool, Everton fans saw it. Even in this gilded age, soccer is still a sport that allows for powerful bonds to be formed between players and fanbases. Everton fans loved Richarlison, so much so that he was probably the only player on the squad who was guaranteed not to catch any shit from the increasingly enraged mass of Scousers who spent last season watching their team nearly get relegated. During a season in which fans demanded blood from everyone in the organization, from the boardroom to the end of the bench, they never stopped singing Richarlison’s name.
He earned that respect through his performances on the field, which were always brave even when they weren’t producing goals, and through the way he embraced the locals. Richarlison constantly talked about his connection with the fans, and everyone could tell that the season from hell was wearing on him just as badly as it was on those watching from the stands or at home. It would have been so easy for a player in Richarlison’s position—young, playing well, secure on his national team, knowing that a transfer was waiting for him in the summer—to have shrunk from the struggle Everton was in and just waited for the season to end so that he could secure his move to greener pastures. Richarlison never wilted, though, and in fact played harder and better as things got more dire, at one point even promising Everton fans that he would personally drag the team out of the mess it had made for itself.
Soccer careers are short and riddled with uncertainty. Big transfers crash and burn, homegrown stars up and leave before they turn 22, and there are always bigger clubs and bigger ambitions to chase. These conditions make it very difficult for any player to achieve talismanic status—scoring 20 goals and getting your own song makes it just as likely that you’ll be sold in 12 months—and so when someone does reach that level, it is something to celebrate. Richarlison went out of his way to claim the title of local hero for himself, and Everton fans were glad to hand it over.
What hurts most about Richarlison’s exit is how easily it could have been avoided. He loved the team and the fans, and the team and the fans loved him back, and it feels like all parties would have been thrilled for him to continue his career in Liverpool far beyond the four years he spent there. But a player of Richarlison’s quality, at the age he is now, can’t be expected to keep ticking away years on a team that is more likely to finish near the relegation spots than it is to make any kind of assault on the Top 6. The shame of it all is that the central promise of the Farhad Moshiri era was that Everton would no longer need to be a team regularly abandoned by its best players. Richarlison kept his promise to keep Everton up when he scored against Chelsea, Leicester, and Crystal Palace; Moshiri broke his by putting his best player in such a position in the first place. That’s why Richarlison is headed to London today instead of continuing to strengthen the bond he created with Evertonians. The relationship between a player and his club isn’t that different from relationships between people—if only one side is putting in an honest effort and pulling their weight, a breakup is inevitable.