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From liability to re-liability, Fergie’s winning Raf-fle ticket

For a club like Manchester United that has made of attacking football its trademark, and whose wingers and strikers of past and present are still revered by the crowd, Old Trafford has seen its turf graced by a number of excellent defenders – some technically gifted, some not so but equally loved by the crowd for their commitment to the cause.

Surprisingly, despite the talent that has blessed United’s back four over the years, the right-back slot always seemed something of a weak link, until a certain Gary Neville stepped onto the scene, making the position his own. As honest as ever, the former United captain would be the first to admit that he was never the more talented of players, yet when asked to name an iconic right-back, most United fans would name the Sky Sports pundit without a moment of hesitation.

Future generations, though, might have to take a few more seconds before answering, for United are witnessing the emergence of a player who could go on to not only emulate Neville’s achievements but, perhaps, even better them.

Rafael’s career at Manchester United looked to have suffered a severe blow on April 7, 2010. With United 3-1 up on the night and 4-3 up on aggregate against Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League, the Brazilian was shown his second red card for pegging back Franck Ribery.

United, playing with ten men for over 40 minutes, eventually buckled under the pressure, as Arjen Robben’s wondergoal sent the Germans through, while United and Rafael were left wondering what could have been and what, instead, had been.

“Some will query the inclusion of a headstrong 19-year-old,” said Guardian reporter Kevin McCarra who echoed the opinions of many who thought Rafael still too raw to be thrown at the deep end of an European Cup quarter final.

If United were to reach the same stage of the competition this year, the only query that would take place would be regarding Rafael’s omission from the starting XI, for this season the Brazilian defender has made the right-back position his own in the first four months of the campaign, finally fulfilling the talent at his disposal – something that United fans had hoped for since he joined the club with his twin brother Fabio.

Rafael arrived at United in January 2008 and made his first team debut six months later, with the club still coming to terms with Gary Neville’s injury that would eventually end the right back’s career a few years later. Despite Wes Brown’s splendid season and Owen Hargreaves occasionally deputising at right-back, Rafael still managed to feature in 28 games – scoring a superb goal at The Emirates in the process – but could not build on that platform and played only 16 games in the following season.

Injuries and a lack of first team opportunity hampered Rafael’s progress in the last two seasons with John O’Shea, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all getting the nod ahead of the Brazilian who, in fairness, showed signs of a slow but steady progress when presented with a chance to flourish.

This season, with Smalling and Jones ruled out at the beginning of the campaign, Rafael has seized upon the opportunity to secure his place in the starting XI and hasn’t looked back since, having already clocked up 18 games in all competitions, with two goals – one of them at Anfield – and one assist in the Premier League.

The numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story for the Brazilian has been a rock in United’s often shaky back four in the first months of the season, adding physical presence and a hard-as-nails attitude to his game – attributes not common in a player of his size.

Michael Carrick was full of praise for the Brazilian: “Every season he has got better and better. He has played nearly every game this season and has been terrific. There is still more to come from him, he is still learning the game and is still improving, so it is great for him and he is having a good time,” while Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Rafael’s maturity: “Maturity brings that together and he’s done that over the last two years. He was quite impulsive in the past – committing himself – but he’s been fantastic.”

With Rafael quickly developing into a fan’s favourite not only for his performances but for his passionate attitude on the pitch, United can, at long last, start to believe to have found Gary Neville’s heir.

And to think that it all started with a red card.

Dan (@MUFC_dan87)


  1. Moscow

    29 November 2012 at 16:48

    Am I the only one not feeling sorry for Di Matteo? When they were winning in their easy start to the season, he was mouthing off about our club. For a lucky manager, he certainly became very arrogant, so had it coming to him really:

    • Stephen

      29 November 2012 at 17:02

      @Moscow: Mate that is very true. I remember when he first took over there were rumours that the players were not that keen on him because he was too arrogant. The success he had last season, all be it fortunate and it seemed the players were playing in spite of AVB. He was unlucky to be sacked, but he obviously rubbed Abramovich up the wrong way.
      The way he over celebrated his League Cup win against us was embarrassing, especially as we really should have won!

    • The_Philosopher

      30 November 2012 at 10:52

      @Moscow: Di Matteo says they deserved to win the capital one game. He said it was proof that the game on Sunday was influenced by the officials.

      “Ok Di Matteo, but did you notice that in the capital one game you were playing the Chelsea first team against the United reserve team? So you’re almost expected to beat them.”

      “If you played the United first team on Wednesday again. They would have beatin you again. Just like they did on Sunday.”

      And they almost lost to the reserve team too. One mistake at the end saved them major blushes.

  2. Stephen

    29 November 2012 at 17:05

    Rafael is a terrific lad and real talent, but he still needs to learn how to defend. He does still “goes walkabout” and attacks too often leaving us short defensively. But he will learn and has all the ability in the World.

    • AS

      30 November 2012 at 19:42

      @Stephen: He was brilliant defensively against west ham, really brilliant

  3. The_Philosopher

    29 November 2012 at 17:06

    Gary Neville’s heir? Whoa! Slow down there little britches.

    Rafael is great but lets give him some more time to prove himself.

    He is good for sure, and he has put in some vital contributions this season but lets not get carried away. He has by no means arrived. He still has much to learn.

    Its like Welbeck and his contract negotiation earlier this season. The kid had a couple good games last season and all of a sudden him and his brother agent figured he was so much the business that he was worth wages on par with Rooney.

    Lets see Rafa perform solidly for a season or two before we start calling him “Neville 2.0”

    • vida dollar

      29 November 2012 at 20:09

      Mate Garry is a true united legend but tbh in terms of talent Rafa can do 1000 things that both Neville brothers could only dream of.I think rafas been fantastic and let’s not get too sentimental.

  4. gator

    29 November 2012 at 17:08

    we need a song for our our right back terror. something that mentions him jumping down teves throat and teves walking away scared. i need to find the pic of that again. i will remember that forever. the desire and fire in his eyes he has the eye or the devil 😈

    • gator

      29 November 2012 at 17:11

    • Opti

      29 November 2012 at 17:48

      @gator: Haha. I noticed that against Argentinian opponents the Brazilians in the EPL (at least) are extra physical. Look at Luiz/Ramires/Oscar against City (Tevez and their RB).

      December 9th will be fireworks! Rafael+Anderson against blue Tevez and Co!

  5. Pingback: From liability to re-liability, Fergie’s winning Raf-fle ticket | Manchester United News

  6. The_Philosopher

    30 November 2012 at 11:08

    This is completely out of left field but;

    Lets buy Radamel Falcao and turn Rooney into a midfielder!

    That would be awesome!

    • Moscow

      30 November 2012 at 13:05

      @The_Philosopher: That is the worst decision imaginable. The only reason Rooney is playing deeper is because our midfield is shit.

    • Opti

      30 November 2012 at 16:26

      @The_Philosopher: Did you take a wrong turn? RoM is over there ➡
      😆 😆

  7. Stephen

    30 November 2012 at 11:12

    The_Philosopher, Firstly matey, Rooney IS NOT a midfield player. Secondly the £50m buy out clause could but two World Class midfielders, which would be money better spent.
    Sorry to take the jam out of your doughnut 😀

    • Opti

      30 November 2012 at 16:26

      @Stephen: “Sorry to take the jam out of your doughnut”
      — I love English expressions 🙂

  8. Ismail N

    30 November 2012 at 12:15

    the young lad seems to be improving a lot this year. Our best player for this season to date.

  9. Moscow

    30 November 2012 at 13:17

    I think the reason why we will fail in Europe again is because we don’t have Ronaldo anymore. We can win it without him, but we need to attack through the middle. Our most fundamental tactics are flawed, you can’t win the league with 90s tactics of wing play anymore.

    A big decision has to be made about strikers. Welbeck should be sold, with Henriquez replacing him. Rooney needs to be permanently returned to a striker before he loses wastes all his talent in the hole. We need to play with ONE striker in the starting XI, Hernandez should always be on the subs bench. Going with Fergie’s idea of rotation, we can rotate Rooney and RVP in the leading striker position, like Real do with Benzema and Higuain. Sneijder’s available in January, he’s 28 and has never relied on his pace. Buy him. Play him behind RVP/Rooney, then play Carrick and another physical midfielder behind him. Play Nani on the right as an INSIDE FORWARD, put Kagawa on the left in the same role, DO NOT ruin them by instructing them to hug the touchline and put crosses in. The only players running up and down the touchline should Rafael and Evra/Buttner.

    Or, we could buy Fellaini and play him in the Yaya Toure role, and together with Carrick they can shut down the midfield like City often do. Play an interchanging front 4 of Kagawa, Nani, Rooney and RVP. Does that sound so foolish to implement? Can’t we at least give it a go?

    • Stephen

      30 November 2012 at 18:06

      @Moscow: Agreed, we need to evolve our system especially in Europe, but we are getting there.

    • AS

      30 November 2012 at 19:45

      @Moscow: Kagawa is genuinely wasted on the left, he is purely a number 10, and is better than sneijder at playing there

  10. John Tring

    2 December 2012 at 14:20

    Bro, do you actually watch any match involving Rafael? Did you do so last night? Rafael’s the most useless and unreliable player in Utd’s team. That’s some feat considering we have many of them in Utd lately. Rafael is not Utd-class and only SAF knows why Jones is not playing there.

    • AS

      2 December 2012 at 18:53

      @John Tring: Rafael has been our most consistent player this season bar none

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