Give Richarlison some respect: The Pigeon is flying high for Brazil at Qatar 2022
Jamie Carragher probably put it best. "He just winds people up that lad Richarlison." And he does. Richarlison is as divisive as they come. But it's not just related to the showboating. Or the play-acting, which Carragher's also had an issue with in the past.
Before this tournament began, there were plenty of people who still weren't convinced that Richarlison was any good; that he merited a place in this brilliant Brazil squad.
Even after scoring twice on his World Cup debut, against Serbia, the second of which was a goal of the tournament contender, the Selecao striker was slated by Antonio Cassano.
"You can't call up Richarlison, who is terrible, and leave out [Roberto] Firmino, who is a phenomenon," the former Italy international told Bobo TV. "Richarlison is very bad, they paid €75 million (£65m/€79m) for him and he doesn't know how to control the ball! Liverpool's Firmino is much better.
"I am a person who never denies when he gets something wrong and after what I have seen, I confirm that Richarlison is terrible. For the second goal [against Serbia], the reality is that he controlled the ball poorly and he scored that bicycle kick, while the other goal was an empty net. You can't compare him to Brazil's other strikers."
Cry more 😢— Richarlison Andrade (@richarlison97) August 29, 2022
And yet Richarlison has well and truly proven himself Brazil's best No.9.
He's since added a third goal to his World Cup collection, and another beauty at that. In the Selecao's scintillating first-half showing against South Korea, Richarlison used his strength to get under a high ball, controlled it on his head a few times, and then instigated a lovely one-touch move that ended with him coolly slotting the ball past Kim Seung-Gyu.
Of course, he then celebrated his goal with his trademark 'Pigeon dance' alongside Tite and the rest of his team-mates. Cue more outrage, this time from Roy Kane, who labelled the "jig" disrespectful.
Richarlison's importance to this team, though, is no longer beyond dispute. As recently as March, remember, his mere inclusion in the squad was being questioned.
"I'm not here because I'm cute!" a clearly irritated Richarlison told reporters. "I was out [of the squad] because of an injury that was serious. And many reporters and commentators already saw me as being outside the World Cup picture. But I was calm because I know my talent, my potential. Like it or not, I already have a history here with the national team shirt.
"I think you should show a little respect. We work hard, we work seriously. I was totally calm. Still, we are talking about the Brazilian team, so every day a new striker appears there. My position is very disputed."
And Richarlison didn't exactly have the strongest claim on a starting spot. At the time, he had netted just four Premier League goals for an Everton side battling relegation.
Given the depth of the striking talent available to Tite, the decision to recall Richarlison was contentious at best. He'd not featured for Brazil since contributing just one goal – in a 4-0 group-stage rout of Peru – to a 2021 Copa America campaign that ended in a devastating 1-0 loss to Argentina in the final.
Those were tough times. For Richarlison, representing Brazil is the pinnacle of his profession. Being on the outside hit him hard. He spent a lot of time in his bedroom, "feeling the blues".
"I was hurt because I knew I could be there," he told GOAL. "I've never imagined myself out of the Selecao, so when it happened for the first time, it was very painful."
However, Tite had never lost faith in Richarlison. He told him to keep training hard; that his chance would come again. When it did, he took it, emphatically.
He made his return to the international fold against Chile on March 25. He was given just 15 minutes off the bench, but that was all he needed to get back among the goals.
And he's not stopped scoring since. Indeed, Richarlison has now scored 10 times in just nine appearances for Brazil this year – at least four more than any other player.
Se você está Richarlisado ou Pombolizado, você está correto 🕊️— GOAL Brasil (@GoalBR) December 6, 2022
Cc @richarlison97 pic.twitter.com/sixlcuSU2r
Neymar is the creative hub of the Seleccao attack, the leader, and undisputed source of strength and inspiration. But Richarlison is now Tite's talisman.
He's also emerged as something of a hero in Brazil, and not just for his goals either.
The left loves him because he was one of the few members of the national team to back Lula in the recent Brazilian presidential elections. However, the 25-year-old has also endeared himself to his compatriots with his commitment to the cause, and the passion with which he speaks about representing his country.
"They know how fond I am of the Selecao, they know how much I always want to be with the Selecao," he told GOAL. "I may not be one of the best in the world, I'm sure, but when I enter on the pitch, I give my life."
When Neymar was accused of arrogance in a German newspaper before the World Cup began for jokingly adding a sixth star to his shorts, Richarlison called the author of the story an "a*shole".
"It is they who are arrogant," the Spurs striker argued. "We're just dreamers. We are dreaming of this sixth star and we will pick it up, whether they like it or not."
And if they do, Richarlison might finally get the recognition he deserves.