Inter, sitting in a tie for third (statistical fourth) place in Serie A, just might have pulled off one of the steals of the winter transfer window in a loan for Rafinha Alcantara from FC Barcelona.
The young 24-year old Brazilian midfielder is a mass of untapped player and a man with astonishing amounts of bad luck — like the other Alcantara brother, Thiago, who plays for Bayern Munich.
Even as people are quick to say that Thiago is better, the little-considered secret of the brothers has always been that they can play in the same midfield. Thiago is the stability where Rafinha is the chaos generator.
What is Inter getting with Rafinha? At the core of his game is schooling in the ‘La Masia’ tradition of Barcelona, an education that will be invaluable. How good does Rafinha have the potential to be? If a dullard such as Gerard Deulofeu can sparkle with AC Milan, expect Rafinha to shoot into the stratosphere with proper care and feeding.
Now that Serie A has moved more toward the football side of things from the “none shall pass” approach, Rafinha has conditions in which he can thrive. He is calm on the ball, with the technical skill that only a Masia background can bring. You can spank him the ball in a crowd and expect him to retain it. He also thinks ahead. Think of playing midfield for most teams as visiting a foreign nation. You know the language, but aren’t fluent. You hear a phrase, translate it, then speak. Masia graduates like Rafinha are fluent in midfield. When the ball arrives, he already knows what to do with it.
He also plays one-touch football and the passes explode off his foot, a quality that not enough people comment on. His passes don’t linger on the pitch. Inter teammates will need to sharpen their control skills, because Rafinha is also fond, like most players raised in the Masia way, of the 1-2 on move, again off the one-touch, and hits the pass like a player used to taking part in rondos with Messi and Iniesta.
It’s a high-stakes move for Inter where there may be a high payout, like at online casinos at Canada Casino.
At Celta Vigo, where he was loaned before returning to Barcelona, we saw a purer distillation of what he can bring to the Nerazzurri, if manager Luciano Spalletti lets him loose. He is a quick, elusive dribbler, capable of evading multiple defenders and releasing attackers with an intelligent pass over short, medium and long range. This is true even as his coach at both clubs, Celta and Barcelona, used him in different ways based on personnel.
Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo let him run the show, driving play, leading breaks, dribbling and controlling. At Barcelona, Luis Enrique used him as a shuttle between lines, allowing Lionel Messi to no longer have the need to drop deep to break lines. His loss to the Blaugrana side probably cost the team a deeper run into Champions League as well as in La Liga. He was coming into his own before being felled with the injury that kept him out of the lineup for almost 300 days.
Rafinha also has box-to-box capabilities, making intelligent runs into the box where he can take shots (creative, hard shotmaker). He can also dribble his way into the box, to either create or shoot on his own. His pace with the ball, coupled with elusiveness and pitch vision make him a chaos generator. Mauro Icardi should expect to benefit from this, once he learns to play with the Brazilian.
Inter supporters should note, however, that Rafinha isn’t a rough-and-tumble Serie A-style mid. He’s closer to a box-to-box Jorginho. Rafinha is Brazilian, but he isn’t soft.
Flaws? Well, fragility is most significant, even as that can be excused in part by the fact that Rafinha’s serious injuries have been contact-related. Both the Radja Nainggolan horror tackle, then the one that put him out after his return from that, were aggressive challenges of the kind that can injure. Rafinha doesn’t seem to break on his own. He can also be a beat behind on the defensive side of the ball, more of a liability at Barcelona than it will be at Inter, which is structured differently as a team.
Bottom line? Rafinha Alcantara was playing with regularity in an XI featuring some of the best players in world football, such as Messi, Neymar and Andres Iniesta. If he stays fit and Spalletti commits to him as he should, the potential 38m purchase option available to Inter will seem a bargain.