Watford fans have a new hero this season, in the form of Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison.
The winger has been the heart and soul of the Hornet’s great start to the campaign, scoring three goals in the league and wowing fans with his skill, speed and technique.
But four years ago, the youngsters life was very, very different.
As the oldest of five children born to a stonemason and a cleaner, Richarlison grew up in Nova Venecia in the south-eastern state of Espirito Santo — which boasts fantastic beaches but is better known for producing steel and petroleum than footballers.
Speaking exclusively to the Sun about his life in Brazil, Richarlison said: “When I was seven my dad bought ten balls for me, not because he could afford to do it but because he wanted me to be a good footballer.
“Most of the time my friends and I played on the street, make goals with our sandals.
“It was like a favela, a poor area.”
It seems from an early age, playing in the Premier League was a big ambition for the 20-year-old.
He said: “I used to watch the Premier League on my uncle’s TV.
“I was in love with what I was seeing — the speed of the game and the way it never stopped.
“I said, ‘I’m going to play there one day’.”
At 16, the tricky winger’s life changed when he met businessman Renato Velasco, who saw his potential while playing in the youth team at local club Real Noroeste
Richarlison added: “Renato was the first one that gave me an opportunity.
“In the first week he gave me a pair of football boots because before that I had been playing with odd ones.
“He told me, ‘I’m going to help you because you have quality’.”
What can Richarlison bring to your Dream Team?
- Three goals scored so far this season
- 7.42 rating on WhoScored – 23rd best in the Premier League
- 46 Dream Team points
- Fancy Richarlison to shine? Get him in your fantasy football team now
That quality took Richarlison to America Mineiro in Brazil’s second tier in December 2014 and to Fluminense a year later.
In August, a phone call from new Watford boss Marco Silva persuaded Richarlison to snub Ajax at the 11th hour and join the Hornets instead.
Richarlison’s three goals in seven games make him one of the surprises of the season so far.
But not to himself.
He said: “I am not surprised because everything in my life has changed so fast.
“From the day I started to play for America, then Fluminense, now in the Premier League — everything has come at the right time.”