Club: Manchester United
Position: Right Back
Date of Birth: July 9th 1990
Place of Birth: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Previous Club(s): Fluminense
For a decade and more, Manchester United had the Neville brothers at full-back. For the next decade and more, expect to see the Da Silva brothers in the same positions. They’re not just brothers though – they’re identical twins, and supremely talented.
United had the duo tied up some years before they eventually came to Old Trafford, as Brazilian transfer rules prevent players under the age of 18 moving abroad. This somewhat stunted their development, as understandably, Fluminense were reluctant to play and aid the development of players they were ultimately about to lose. Thus, instead of cracking on through the club’s ranks, they stagnated, and were only able to impress at international youth level.
Some six months before they could officially sign, they headed to England to acclimatise, and work their way into Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans. Rafael plays on the right, a little bit more defensively-minded than his brother, but barely. He has endless energy, great pace, composure, and whilst he may appear to be very much an attacking right-back, he can defend pretty well too. Physically Rafa still has some developing to do, but that’s no surprise. His tactical discipline can sometimes also be questioned, as he will often maraud up into attack and leave gaping holes at the back. Perhaps he has the license to do that, and with personal maturity comes tactical maturity, especially with his fitness levels.
In a time where Gary Neville is winding down his career, it appears as if the club has a perfect, if more attacking, replacement for the next fifteen years.
Neither Rafael nor his brother were expected to make much of an impact in their first season, at least not beyond first team level. However, injuries at right-back meant Rafa, who had been putting in useful performances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer one level down, was called upon. After a Carling Cup outing, he was thrown in at the deep end in an away European tie at Aalborg, where he impressed before injury. It was the precursor to an extended run of games over the first half of the season, during which he scored his first goal for the club – a sublime volley (on his weaker foot) in a losing effort away to Arsenal.
Injuries struck midway through the year to prevent him cracking on and making the spot his own permanently, but that’s not far off. Expect him to reach that level in the coming months.