The freshly crowned Spanish champions need money to spend this summer, and the Brazil winger may bring them a significant sum of money if they decide to sell him.
The introduction of Raphinha as a new player for Barcelona seemed a little strange. He and Joan Laporta rolled a ball back and forth uncomfortably until he finally agreed to pose for a photo with the club president. The Blaugrana's confusion regarding player registration in the summer of 2022 resulted in his being given a uniform without a number. The club that spent €65 million for him and was proudly showcasing him to the globe had no assurances that he would play in the upcoming months.
Raphinha used a plethora of cliches, but he said it anyhow. He called it a "dream come true" to play for Barca. He mentioned that a few of his heroes were former members of the team. He promised to do all it takes to ensure victory for his squad.
After 10 months, the player in question had earned an official number and made 34 league appearances. Both the Spanish League and Cup have been won by him. Since joining the Brazilian national squad, he has become a frequent starter.
However, he might be the first player to depart Barcelona during this season's upheaval. The Blaugrana's transfer market goals are ambitious, and one of those is to get a specific Argentine World Cup hero. However, until they make a sale, they are cash-strapped.
If Raphinha is sold for a large number of money, his dream club will be able to fix their financial woes and sign Lionel Messi, who has been a longtime target of theirs.
A puzzling signing
The financial woes of Barcelona have been widely documented. To register some of their current players and add some new ones, they will reportedly need to fund around €200m (£176m/$215m). They've taken steps in that direction by releasing high-priced role players, kicking out three of the club's all-time greats, and, inexplicably, disbanding their own television network.
But they are only pinpricks in an enormous quantity. The expected €70m (£61m/$75m) price tag for Raphinha would make a significant dent in their financial obligations.
The summer before last, when he was signed, made little sense. It might be argued that Barca didn't require any further scoring threats. Right flank wasn't a top priority because of the presence of Robert Lewandowski and the success of Ousmane Dembele and the other substitutes. After it became apparent that Raphinha was not interested in spending another season fighting relegation with Leeds, the club went shopping for a buyer, and the Blaugrana came through with a price.
Even though Chelsea offered more, Leeds felt that €65 million was fair given the importance of Raphinha to keeping them in the Premier League with his 11 goals and three assists. When you consider that he had already rejected offers from other teams in order to play at Camp Nou for Barcelona, you can see why this deal looked so good. There were flaws, but this 25-year-old had a beautiful left foot and was dedicated to the club. It's challenging to locate such players.
The catch is that there already was one of such in Barcelona. Dembele had a bit of a reversal towards the end of the 2021-22 season, when the booing from the Camp Nou supporters turned into lukewarm approval and a new contract.
This meant that the high-priced acquisition Raphinha had to sit out the most important games. Barcelona was aware of, and is aware of, his glaring lack of versatility as a player. There was always going to be an issue with it.
How it's worked
It hasn't all been horrible, though. In reality, Raphinha has been pivotal to Barcelona's success on several occasions. The injury to Dembele in January kept him out of play for four months, as was to be expected, and thus promoted the Brazilian into the starting lineup. He made good use of his opportunity. Since the World Cup, he has scored seven times and assisted on four more, which is great news for a Blaugrana team that has seen star striker Lewandowski go through somewhat of a slump.
The influence of Raphinha goes beyond the statistics. Even though it sounds simple, Raphinha only wants to be in the know. Raphinha is frequently the Blaugrana player farthest forward on the field due to manager Xavi's asymmetrical 4-4-2 formation, making him the most reliable option for a quick counterattack. As a result of Barcelona's extensive use of him, FBRef ranks Raphinha among the world's best in progressive passes received.
But once he gets possession of the ball, mishaps are almost guaranteed to occur. Raphinha is a tremendous offensive threat and outstanding dribbler, but his decision-making is subpar. He has a habit of blazing shots well past the crossbar, prompting Lewandowski's icy, defiant stare.
This is the crux of the issue with the tasks assigned to Raphinha. Although they play comparable positions, he and Dembele couldn't be more different as players. Dembele is a far more gifted creative, but he has a terrible allergy to scoring goals. Lewandowski and the France winger got along well throughout the first half of the season, but the same can't be said about his relationship with Raphinha.
In the future?
Nonetheless, this could work out in the long run. Xavi's willingness to tinker with his squad was on display when he flipped to a 4-4-2 formation midway through the season. The majority of Raphinha's damage this year came from the more advanced spots he gained access to after making that adjustment.
The Blaugrana have also tried out a 4-3-3 formation that includes both Raphinha and Dembele. Recently, Dembele, who can play on both feet, has begun on the left, while Raphinha has played on the right. But it was a failure for both of them. Dembele and Raphinha both had forgettable games against Real Sociedad, with the former hardly touching the ball at all. They made the swap midway through the first half, but it had little effect on Barcelona's offense.
It's evident that neither player is a competent left winger, but their combined playing time on the field doesn't prove that they're completely incompatible. And if Dembele and Raphinha are competing for a starting berth for Barcelona, Xavi will almost certainly always choose the Frenchman.
Time to sell
It is unclear if Raphinha will accept a restricted position. True, players of his caliber, seniority, and salary do not routinely accept guest appearances. Raphinha would be a very pricey backup for the Blaugrana, who will be competing for the Champions League and La Liga next season and hence require a deeper side.
However, Barcelona benefits from both his low cost and high quality. Despite his many flaws as an offensive player and his obvious shortcomings in current Barca system, he still has a chance to end the year with 20 goals and assists. Many teams in Europe have the financial resources to offer him a lucrative contract.
There aren't many, if any, other players on the books for the Blaugrana that can compare to his worth. The name Ansu Fati has been bandied around as a possible departure, but at age 20, he hasn't been in game shape for two years and still appears like an injured player. Meanwhile, Ferran Torres is a bit player, doing everything a striker should do but actually scoring goals.
While both are profitable, none is worth the €70m (£61m/$75m) someone would presumably pay for Raphinha. And Barça must capitalize where it can.
The upcoming season's budget has been aided by the exits of Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, but they are still far from being able to spend. Not all at once, but the sale of Raphinha will contribute significantly to the necessary incremental growth.
How it might work
Nonetheless, Raphinha has shown no serious signs of wanting to quit the club. He wanted to play for Barcelona so badly last summer that he rejected offers from many other major teams, including Chelsea. The situation might get unpleasant if it ends up being a repeat of the Frenkie de Jong drama from last summer.
The midfielder didn't want to go back then, and Barcelona didn't want to let him go. He was disposable, but selling him to Manchester United would net a tidy profit. Everything turned into a major diversion. Barcelona does not want that to happen, even though they are currently on a Messi search.
This may grow much more intricate in the future. Major changes are being made in Barcelona's boardroom in the final two weeks before the transfer window begins. Jordi Cruyff, a veteran of Cule and a highly recognized executive, is departing. Mateu Alemany, a key cog in Barcelona's post-Messi renaissance, abruptly reversed his decision to leave the club. Meanwhile, Deco has joined the board, which is problematic because he is presently acting as Raphinha's agent.
As a result, the presumed sale of Raphinha might go awry due to differences in approach, goals, and personnel. The Blaugrana need to get rid of Raphinha more than almost any other team. After all, his departure may finally allow them to sign Messi and other key players they've wanted for a long time.
It's likely that Raphinha won't approve. Xavi may very well agree. But Barcelona needs money, and trading Raphinha is the simplest way to convert a budget-friendly summer into a wild one.