If Dele Alli’s candid interview with Gary Neville in July taught us anything, it is to think twice before condemning a player out of form.
Elite footballers are like the rest of us, often with complicated pasts and entangled personal lives, and their struggles on the pitch can be as much the result of off-field difficulties as fitness, confidence or ability.
This week, for example, one of Dele’s successors in Tottenham’s attack, Richarlison, revealed he will seek “psychological help” on his return from international duty after a “turbulent time” away from the pitch for the past five months.
Richarlison’s revelation came after he was pictured in tears on Brazil’s bench during the 5-1 win over Bolivia, in which he failed to score and was substituted. He then started the 1-0 win over Peru and had a goal disallowed — continuing a steady streak of rotten luck.
Last season, he was frequently played out of position on the right by Antonio Conte, and suffered injury lay-offs either side of the World Cup, missing 11 club games in total.
During the campaign, he took a kicking from new team-mate Brennan Johnson and, subsequently, sections of the media for the crime of juggling the ball in a game against Nottingham Forest and was mocked by fellow pros Michail Antonio and Callum Wilson for his shirtless celebrations after goals which were later ruled out by VAR.
When he admitted in frustration to having a “s**t” season after Spurs crashed out of the Champions League in March, Conte publicly agreed.
And when Richarlison finally broke his duck for Spurs in the League, a seemingly last-ditch equaliser at Anfield to complete a comeback from 3-0 down, it felt scripted — the former Everton hero returning to Merseyside to haunt Liverpool — and like a potential lift-off moment.
Within seconds of the restart, however, Diogo Jota scored to make it 4-3 in the 94th minute.
No one should have benefited more from Ange Postecoglou’s arrival and Harry Kane’s departure over the summer, but becoming Spurs’s leading centre-forward only appeared to increase the pressure on Richarlison, who struggled in the first three games of this season.
He scored in the Carabao Cup defeat by Fulham, but took a knock in the same match, with Heung-min Son taking over as central striker against Burnley and scoring a hat-trick — leaving Richarlison’s chances of returning to the side for Saturday’s home game against Sheffield United looking slim.
Long-term, however, there are reasons to be optimistic about a Richarlison revival at Spurs.
Richarlison should be applauded for speaking out publicly, another indication that for all his on-pitch theatrics, he is one of the game’s endearing characters
Firstly, it is hugely encouraging he has identified problems and is willing to seek help. He should be applauded for speaking out publicly, another indication that for all his on-pitch theatrics, he is one of the game’s endearing characters.
Secondly, in Postecoglou, Richarlison has the perfect coach to help him through this period; empathetic, emotionally-intelligent, prepared to think long-term and willing to take responsibility for any failures.
While it would have been hard to imagine Richarlison receiving the necessary support and patience from Conte, Postecoglou protects his players and knows they are all going through a process of adapting to his approach.
He can be trusted to do what is right for Richarlison, be it a short spell out of the spotlight or a chance to play through this troubled spell. Richarlison’s is confident he will improve.
“Things are going to flow now and I’m certain I’ll have a good run at Tottenham and will make things happen again,” he said this week.