Football is a game of tomorrows – is the way England legend Sir Geoff Hurst put it.
And never was that old saying more apt than on 22 July in Yokohama when 24-year-old Brazilian striker Richarlison de Andrade danced with pure joy after each of his three goals – which all came in the space of the game's opening half-hour.
“That was my first hat-trick [for Brazil],” said the player after the opening-day win over Germany. “A dream come true, all the more so wearing the famous No10 shirt of my country.”
These three goals – one from the right, another from the left and one with his head – saw Brazil roar to a 4-2 win at the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. And they came just 11 days on from the sorrows of Brazil’s senior team's loss to arch-rivals Argentina on home soil at the mythical Maracana in the final of the Copa America (South America’s biennial Cup of Nations).
It was tears for Brazil on that night in Rio when 2008 Olympic gold medallists Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi finally won another elusive title at international level. Neymar and Richarlison, and the rest of the hosts, were left only to shed bitter tears and lick their wounds.
The weight of the No10
While Neymar – who inspired Brazil to their first-ever gold in Rio in 2016 – will play no part in these Tokyo Games, he’s here in spirit. He's here also in the long and glorious tradition of Brazilian players who’ve worn the number-10 shirt with distinction. This time out, it’s no surprise that the shirt, saved only for the best of the best – those weavers of dreams, is draped on Richarlison.
Such was the Everton man’s desire to play again for Brazil, after the despair of the Copa America loss, that he lobbied his English Premier League club mercilessly to get official approval. And get it he did, finally, on 5 July from new club boss Rafa Benitez, just a little over two weeks before kick-off against Germany in the Japanese port City of Yokohama.
"I had a fight there, right? I spent the whole day arguing with Everton, with the director. I also called the new coach [Rafa Benitez].
"It’s very important for me to get this experience, get more mature because it’s going to be important to me.
“I already called Jardine [Brazil’s coach] and told him to save the No10 shirt for me because I’m on my way!” Richarlison enthused after Everton relented and allowed their ace striker to take up the No10 jersey for Brazil, one weighed down with high expectations and history but imbued with magical powers too.
It’s the shirt worn at recent Olympic Games by Neymar and before him Ronaldinho. Before him Rivaldo.
The collection of Brazilian players to pull on the No10 jersey is a list of wizards and winners. It includes the likes of Pele, perhaps the best footballer of all-time, Zico, Rivelino, Jair, Kaka – and course, on the women’s side, Marta, who scored twice (at the age of 35) in Brazil’s opener with China in the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) Women's Olympic Football Tournament.
The list goes on and on, and could make any fan of the game – and its brighter-shining lights – dizzy with appreciation.
READ | Marta Breaks Olympic Records
Straight for goal
Richarlison, in fairness, is no Neymar. He’s not an artistic trickster like Ronaldinho either. Richarlison, despite only scoring seven goals this year in an injury-plagued season for Everton, is a goal-getter in his bones. He's combative and volatile too -- right at home in any battle down in any mud. And while he often starts out wide for his club side, and the senior Brazilian team, he’s lining up straight down the middle for Brazil's Olympic side, led by veteran captain Dani Alves and creator Matheus Cunha, that's deadly on the counter-attack.
And the tall, rangy Richarlison – who famously had to borrow a pair of football boots to go on trials for the first time at América Mineiro – signaled his intent for the rest of the competition with his dazzling performance against the Germans. It was a replay of the Rio 2016 final where Neymar fired Brazil to claim their only missing piece of silverware in men’s international football with that iconic No10 on his back.
It’s the first hat-trick in the Tokyo Men’s Olympic Football Tournament (although Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands got one in a 10-3 win over Zambia on the women’s side) and it sets Richarlison up as the one to chase in the race for the golden boot.
But football is fickle, you know. A game of tomorrows, as said that famous Hurst, who helped deliver a World Cup to English fans back in 1966. Tomorrows can make you cry or shout for joy – and everything in between. Just ask the sons, and grandchildren, of those England fans who roared with delight at Wembley five decades ago.
What the future holds for Brazil’s new No10 here in Tokyo is yet to be written.
And that’s the beauty of tomorrows.