Rafael 22 Defender Manchester United
It seems an absolute lifetime ago now, perhaps it is, that Gary Neville made it abundantly clear that the right back position at Manchester United would be his for years to come. One of the first to really nail a regular starting place for both club and country, Neville was the assured pack leader of the sparkling mid 90’s junior assembly which included Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and Butt.
For the two decades following what a certain media outlet would attest as English’s football’s big bang, Neville was master of his position and a more reliable lieutenant Sir Alex Ferguson would struggle to uncover.
The prickly issue with those inalterable ‘Regular Joe’s is that one day, they will have to be replaced. After twenty years of Gary Neville, what do you do next?
Hong Kong. That’s the location of the 2005 finals of the globally respected youth football tournament The Nike Cup. As omnipresent representatives at the tournament, the Manchester United coaching staff have been fortunate enough to identify future stars at the event over the years. In this particular year, respected Red Devils scout Les Kershaw singled out a pair of rampaging twins from the junior ranks at Fluminense.
With a well oiled scouting and recruitment process entrenched, continued monitoring led to a series of calls in 2007 between England and Brazil. Despite interest from Arsenal, Fabio and Rafael da Silva agreed to join Manchester United, and arrived in Salford in early 2008.
After the completion of six months with his new club, Rafael da Silva made his Manchester United debut as a substitute in a Premier League clash against Newcastle United at Old Trafford. As the season went on, Rafael, along with brother Fabio played regularly for their new club, with Rafael the more regular starter of the two.
By early 2012, Rafael had become a first choice for Manchester United but many United fans retained a feeling that the jury was still out on their thrusting Brazilian right back.
Misgivings were easy to relate to. After such an extensive period of total Nevillism, it was always going to be difficult to replace such an extensively decorated individual, even if the earmarked replacement is a much more skilful player. However, something appears to have occurred over the summer. Something has changed, and the Raphael that is taking to the field for Manchester United now is a very different animal to the one we included in this list last December.
Attacking wise, Rafael has continued to develop well over the last few seasons. He’s quick and when given the opportunity, links up tremendously well with Antonio Valencia. He can tackle and few could argue that he is willing to put a good shift in on the right side of the pitch, bombing forward to support attacking play.
Up until this season, the biggest issues with Rafael had been positional play and timing – essential skills for the modern day attacking full back to master. The old adage suggests that a full back knows when to attack and when to defend, but many of the Manchester United fans we spoke to singled out an inevitability that Rafael would be nowhere during an opposition break. We heard the word ‘rash’ used a number of times, but the most fitting summary we gained was that “Rafael is very dangerous in the penalty box….both of them.”
None of this was ever likely to be insurmountable though and we always thought that fine tuning rather than comprehensive overhaul were required. And so it has proved. In the early stages of the 2012/13 season, Rafael has not just performed consistently well, he has arguably been United’s best player. Whether the kick start of the Olympics resulted in the refinement required is open to conjecture, something worked and a very good player stands before us.
"This is the season that Rafael could establish himself as the outstanding young defender in England, perhaps even beyond. With Gary Neville's number but not facial hair, Rafael has arguably been Manchester United's player of the season so far, storming down the right flank and forming a hugely intimidating partnership with Antonio Valencia. Four years of patience is paying off for United." - Nick Miller (Football365)
C+ Development has hit a sharp upward curve of late. Great news for club and country
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