It was 2007 when it was first reported that Manchester United Football Club had agreed a deal with Brazilian outfit Fluiminese to sign The Da Silva twins Rafael and Fabio. For most involved in English football they were unknown quantities with only avid football manager fans knowing who they were and how good they could be. They couldn’t join the squad until January 2008 however due to Premier League regulations on signing Brazilians under the age of 18.
In recent years Manchester United had been struggling, having not won the premier league for 2 years and had even been knocked out of the champions league in the group stages which was completely unacceptable for a team of United’s stature. Gary Neville was no longer the player he once was and backup in John O Shea and Wes Brown could surely only be a stop gap if United were to progress forward once again. Lead by Ronaldo and Rooney Manchester United won the premier league in the 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 season but still had no natural right back with the quality necessary.
Rafael made his first start for Manchester United in a Carling cup 3rd round game at Old Trafford against Middlesbrough which is unfortunately remembered for the horror injury suffered by Rodrigo Possebon which effectively ended his career at the theatre of dreams. From early on In that game Rafael impressed fans straight off with the energy and flamboyancy he brought to the right hand side. As the season progressed Rafael was given more and more first team opportunities and rewarded Sir Alex Ferguson by scoring a simply sublime volley in injury time at the Emirates which may not have affected the result but convinced many fans of his attacking prowess as well as defensive.
Early on in his Manchester United career it became apparent that Rafael was a lot more confident with the attacking side of his game than defensive with him often getting caught after pushing too far forward or jumping into a tackle and being exposed by a clever turn, and this may have encouraged other coaches to play him on the right side of midfield but Ferguson persevered in playing Rafael at right back and this paid off when at the end of the 2008/2009 season Rafael was Nominated for the PFA young player of the year award.
Rafael’s twin brother Fabio who while they were in Brazil was often considered to be the better footballer out of the two had received limited first team opportunities due to injury and the consistent standard of performance from French left back Patrice Evra, however in April 2009 the two twins started their first game together against Everton in the FA cup semi final at the new Wembley. The game and result were both poor from United fans perspective but Fabio and Rafael were the solitary positives with their attacking runs and energy lifting the team’s performance from either side and gave fans assurances that the future would be bright with the twins.
In 2009/2010 Rafael struggled early season with injuries and loss of form, with him only playing 8 games in all competitions for the first team which compared to the previous seasons 16 appearances in all competitions was largely disappointing not only for himself but also the United fans. However later on the season when Rafael started returning for the first team it was clear he had worked on his defensive attributes with less errors being made.
April 2010 saw Manchester United entertain Bundesliga giants Bayern München in the second leg of the UEFA Champions league quarter finals. United were 3-0 up inside the first half with Rafael creating a lovely move to put Darron Gibson through inside 3 minutes and looked to be cruising into the semi finals off the competitions. However two key incidents in the first half turned the game on its head, Rafaels 18th minute booking for a professional foul on Mark Van Bommel earned him a yellow card which even the most biased of United fans could not argue about, and then Ivica Olic scoring a slightly fortunate goal with great individual persistance right on half time changed the complexion of the tie completely. The second half saw Bayern control much more of the ball and in the 50th minute Rafael was perceived to have fouled Ribery although the first foul actually was against Rafael, and was subsequently sent off. Dejected,distraught and most of all disappointed would be the words to describe Rafaels emotions whilst walking down the tunnel, and this sending off all but signified the end of his season and he wouldnt reach the levels of performance that fans had come to expect.
The start of the 2010/2011 season saw Manchester United not strengthen their first team squad in the summer due to this Many fans were sceptical about the teams chances of regaining the Premier League. Uniteds start to the season was inconsistent ton say the least with the side dropping points from winning positions in all of their away games. Rafael was now a regular starter and from the first few games of the season regular visitors to Old Trafford could see Rafael had vastly improved his defensive game, with less diving into tackles and more attention given to tracking back. A perfect example of the new Rafael was on the 30th October 2010 against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford where the young brazillian was given the task of shackling Welsh Wing Wizard Gareth Bale who had been in a brilliant run of form with some stunning performances which culminated in a hat trick against albeit a Mourinho less Inter Milan at the San Siro. For the 64 minutes Rafael was on the pitch Gareth Bale was simply outclassed, Rafael did what Maicon failed to do and just not dive in and force Bale wide which culminated in the Welshman creating next to no chances for spurs and ultimately made their play very central which suited United’s experienced defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic right down to the ground.
Since that game Rafael has simply gone from strength to strength and is starting nearly every game, the defensive mistakes lapses in concentration which were common upon his arrival in English football seemed to be gone from his game. Manchester United’s unbeaten season so far has been in no small part due to the return of Rio Ferdinand to the squad and the performances of Rafael who is now demonstrating the same confidence in his defensive abilities as in his attacking ones. Rafael’s transformation from a cheeky Brazillian to a top Premier League wingback is due to hard work and exceptional management from Sir Alex Ferguson, Rafaels newfound consistency,defensive confidence and sensible play is what has made him one of the first names on Sir Alex’s team sheet.
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