Rafinha has arrived at Inter with an air of possibility and, at the same time, of puzzlement. The Nerazzurri have now become the masters of the ‘try now, buy later’ deal, particularly when it comes to not making those moves permanent in the end. When all is said and done, it does lighten expectations.
He comes from an illustrious footballing family, as his father Mazinho won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil and played in Serie A, whilst his brother Thiago Alcantara plays for Bayern Munich. This does not guarantee success, as the midfielder has only started 17 games in the last two seasons for Barcelona. Admittedly, this is down to an ACL injury and various hamstring issues that have all come on top of other fitness problems, he certainly hasn’t been lucky in that department.
Perhaps if he had stayed injury free then he may have been able to break into the ranks at Barcelona, as he has exceptional quality. It is true that under Luis Enrique he did flourish at times in a 3-4-3 formation where he was deployed on the right-hand side of midfield. His pace and quality to drift into the centre made many believe that even after his injury, he would still have a place under Ernesto Valverde.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, by the time he was fully recovered, he could see both Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho in front of him and even Barça B starlet Carles Aleña was looking to push in.
Playing time is what brought Rafinha to Italy, but it will be hard to see how he initially fits into Luciano Spalletti’s version of 4-2-3-1. Rafinha likes to drift into offensive areas both out wide and behind the front two/three. When Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were at Barcelona, he would often come from wide positions to join the assault by drifting inside. This would at first see him as a perfect option to play wide instead of Antonio Candreva, as he could support Mauro Icardi in a more direct way by cutting in from the flanks.
Perhaps more interestingly is the very real threat he could pose by playing as an offensive central midfielder or trequartista. Spalletti has long bemoaned the failings of Joao Mario and Marcelo Brozovic in these positions, so here Rafinha may just be able to do what no creative player has been able to and supply Icardi.
At Camp Nou he was possibly the most dangerous when he was at his skilful and industrious best operating in these areas as (even when he played wide) he would drop deep to pick up the ball and then drive forward on the offensive. This stopped Messi, who at the time was constantly coming deep to get the ball, from having to do this work. Icardi has been tracking back more and more this season and that means he is not playing to his strengths.
Whether Rafinha is going to be the catalyst that allows the Nerazzurri to recapture their form is still debatable. The fact that SPAL, Crotone, Bologna, Genoa and Benevento are all on the horizon however, may allow him to ease into life in Serie A and potentially give his new team a second option.
This deal allows Inter to shirk most of the risk factor and, if he can stay away from injury, perhaps Rafinha might turn out to be a bargain.