Raphinha attended Ronaldinho party aged 7 and is best pals with Bruno Fernandes

Leeds star Raphinha may be only 24 years old but he has already lived quite the life.

Growing up in the Restinga favela of Porto Alegre in Brazil, the winger had to escape the drug underworld on the streets to follow his dream of professional football.

Via spells in his native country, Portugal and France, he achieved his goal of reaching the Premier League last year.

The Brazilian was a revelation for Marcelo Bielsa’s side last season, picking up six goals and nine assists in his debut Premier League campaign.

Raphinha’s flare on the pitch is not surprising, given his friendship with legendary Brazilian forward Ronaldinho, whose birthday party he attended, aged just seven.

“My dad was a musician in a samba band, and they were playing there,” he explained forThe Players’ Tribune.

“Ronaldinho was born in the community where I grew up, so my dad and my uncles knew him.

“I always wanted to be like Ronaldinho. The things he did, the way he enjoyed every minute on the pitch … I was transfixed.

“I felt he gave everyone a promise when he played: Give me the ball and I’ll make you smile.

“This party was when he had just started playing for Barcelona, I think. I remember turning up at this huge house and seeing him stand at the front door, welcoming everybody and giving out hugs. That smile, man. You know the smile.

“When he saw me, he took me in his arms and walked around with me. I froze. Didn’t know how to react.

“But his charm can melt even the coldest little kid, haha. He treats everybody so well, even the small ones.”

Ronaldinho remains a friend to this day and the former Barcelona forward watches Leeds matches to support Raphinha.

That is not the end of Raphinha’s surprising connections to other footballers though – he is also close to Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Fernandes was the Brazilian’s team-mate at former club Sporting Lisbon and helped him settle at the club back in 2018.

“Bruno has helped me so much, man,” Raphinha wrote.

“In Portugal we would talk a lot and go out for meals. When I went to Rennes, he advised me. The guy is so clever. When I was on the plane to Leeds, he texted me saying my style would fit the league. He was right again.

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“Just being around him is an inspiration because of the way he behaves. At the top level I have never seen anyone work as hard as him.

“You know it will be very difficult to do what he does, but if you try long enough and listen to what he says, you might get close.

“I like to tell him that the next time we play each other, I’m going to nutmeg him, hahaha. We always joke around with each other.

“I’ll see you on the pitch soon, brother. Make sure to keep your legs closed.”

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