The Brazilian utility-man, Rafinha, is wasting his formative years at a club that doesn’t really know what to do with him
Barcelona are set to miss the services of Neymar for el Clasico against Real Madrid, but one Brazilian whose absence will not cause a lot of discomfort among the fans, is Rafinha. The 24-year old has never had a convincing run of games before picking up an injury that signals the end to his season. Is it too late for him to save his career, or is it already the beginning of the end?
Despite showing encouraging signs from time to time, there is no doubt that Rafinha is the less talented brother of the two Alcantaras. As a matter of fact, he is already 24 and is yet to have a breakthrough season where he combines quality with consistency. Of course, when a player spends more time on the sidelines than on the pitch, it is less likely that he reaches the next level – but rather do his best to re-attain his pre-injury level. To put things into perspective, Rafinha has only featured in 45 league games with Barcelona, since his comeback from his loan spell with Celta Vigo in 2014. The average is around 15 La Liga appearances per season, which is far beyond what you would expect from a player his age.
As a matter of fact, a player in his mid-twenties should have at least formed a clear idea of his style of play. What is Rafinha’s best position? Is he a winger? A wide playmaker? A central midfielder? A false 9? He has been tested in so many positions, which shows how versatile he can be – but has however failed to stand-out in any single one of them.
In this sense, he is a bit like former Chelsea midfielder Ramires, who could play almost anywhere on the pitch, but has never really excelled anywhere. Rafinha lacks pace for a winger, lacks ball retention and the ability to dictate play, which is essential for a Barcelona central midfielder. What stands out of for him is his good technique, and his work rate. Playing for the Catalans is perhaps another reason – besides injuries – as to why he is yet to find his identity as a footballer. The standards for a Barcelona midfielder are way too high, which explains why he has lost competition and rarely gets the nod in a central role. It is usually out wide where he is utilized mostly.
One thing is sure, you can never completely rule out a footballer’s career at just 24. Rafinha needs to leave Barcelona to a side with far less competition, so he can take advantage of extra game-time in order to improve as a midfielder. He might be a good fit in this position for other clubs with lower expectations. However, another fundamental problem will always be injuries. Alexandre Pato missed more games than he played in his last couple of months at Milan, but he completely got over his injury woes as soon as he left the club. Could a change inspire Rafinha to reinvent himself?