Watford's new signing Joao Pedro could be their new Richarlison

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On July 31, 2017, Richarlison signed for Watford from Brazilian club Fluminense for a little more than £10m. 360 days, 41 games, five goals and four assists later, Everton came in with an offer too good to refuse. In a little under a year, The Hornets made a profit of almost £30m.

It was, if we are being generous, exactly what they had planned. Buy a rough diamond, polish it and sell to the highest bidder. But not even the Watford scouts who first saw the gangly attacker flying up the wing for Fluminense could have imagined it would go so well, so quickly.

It is of little surprise then, that they were soon back, looking for some more raw talent to refine. The Fluminense academy, known as Xerem, is renowned for its productivity and with the club in dire straits financially, their players are relatively easy pickings.

When Watford returned in October 2018 and saw the 16-year-old forward Joao Pedro, one of the most highly-rated youth players in the country at that point, they did not hesitate. A deal was struck that heavily favours the Hertfordshire club.

An upfront payment of £2.1m will be followed by up to £7.2m in performance-related add-ons, if Joao Pedro fulfils the promise Watford believe he has. And, like with Richarlison, Fluminense will be entitled to 10% of any future transfer fee.

Other clubs were reportedly in for Joao Pedro – bigger names than Watford – but the relationship and previous success with Richarlison (that £4.5m they received from the Everton deal helped Fluminense stay afloat) gave the Hornets the upper hand in negotiations.

It is an arrangement that works for both parties. Fluminense could perhaps have made more from Joao Pedro if they had held onto him for longer and waited for him to develop. But then there is the risk that the player does not come to much. And by selling him immediately, they make a much-needed quick buck, with the chance of more money further down the line.

Watford, meanwhile, act as a shop window in Europe and can make a substantial profit. Both clubs know their places in the global football food chain and are working in tandem to achieve their immediate aims.

The question now is whether Watford will be able to repeat the Richarlison trick with their newest Brazilian attacker.

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The first thing to note is the difference in age. Richarlison was 20 when he moved and had two and a half seasons as a professional under his belt. Joao Pedro, who is a centre-forward rather than a winger, has just turned 18 and has only eight months of experience at the top level. In that interval, a lot of development takes place.

Richarlison was also more physically mature when he arrived in England. He had already filled out and was able to resist tough challenges from hardened Premier League defenders. Joao Pedro is slighter, weaker and has less explosive pace than his compatriot.

Having said that, Joao Pedro has already shown that a step up in standard is not something that fazes him. In his first seven games after being promoted to the Fluminense first team in May 2019, he scored 10 goals in a stunning run of form.

After his hat-trick against 2016 Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana, then-Fluminense boss Fernando Diniz spoke glowingly of his young charge. “It was an illuminated display,” said the coach, “We’re used to seeing that with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo… so, it’s not something that’s very common and we really have to celebrate.”

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The spell even ignited talk of a European giant coming in to activate a clause in the contract with Watford that stipulated that Fluminense could pay them €20m to renege on the deal. If a team had been prepared to offer that sum and better Watford’s initial offer on top of that, then Joao Pedro could have gone elsewhere.

Yet with Fluminense in turmoil after a series of bad results in the league, Diniz was sacked and Joao Pedro’s form dropped off severely. The club got through two more managers before the end of the year, with Diniz’s replacement Oswaldo de Oliveira being fired after putting his middle finger up at the fans, and the youngster did not score another goal.

The interest from other clubs dissipated, but Joao Pedro battled through and eventually helped Fluminense avoid relegation. That tumultuous spell in Rio could prove a positive, helping him to understand the situation he is coming into at Watford, who are themselves involved in a battle to avoid the drop.

Joao Pedro also has the advantage of not being the first from his country to tread this path and has spoken of the advice that he has received from Richarlison: “I asked about the English, if he had managed to learn. I said I was starting, and he said it is difficult, but that I must study”.

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Heurelho Gomes, who helped Richarlison bed in, is still there too and will provide support and advice when required.

And despite not having the physical power of Richarlison, Joao Pedro does have a fine set of technical skills. He is a good header of the ball, can finish with his left and right, is diligent in his defensive duties and can drop off and link the play in a way that his compatriot cannot.

The required skills, attitude and mental fortitude are there, then, but for Joao Pedro to get to the point where clubs are bidding more than £40m for him, it may take a little longer than it did with Watford’s previous recruit from Fluminense.

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