By Patrick Hill
>Football can be a bit of a frustrating sport at times. We had a Manchester derby on Sunday – a brilliant game, a last minute winner, and Manchester City’s two year unbeaten run gone. Yet the morning’s papers were plastered with an image of Rio Ferdinand bleeding after being struck by a coin. Sometimes you just think ‘Why do we love this sport so much?’, it seems as if the bad press is all we ever hear.
However, I assure you, and I’m sure you’ve all come to realise this over the years – there are many, many reasons to love football. Whether it be the last minute winners, the trophies or the players, I will never be short of reasons to justify the shortening of my lifespan thanks to Manchester United. Now, I could go on for hours and hours about these reasons but I’m not sure you’d all be too interested. So I’ll focus on one thing; Rafael Da Silva.
If you didn’t smile whenever you read that name then I don’t like you. If you still think Rafael is crap, I think I might full on hate you.
Ever since Rafael rolled into town with his twin Fabio, we’ve had people telling us that they’ll never make it, that they can’t defend, etc. It seems to bizarre to write an article in praise of a defender when Manchester United’s defending has been so poor this season but the odd thing about this is that not one defender can be said to have had a bad season.
Patrice Evra seems to have realised that he will no longer get in the team on reputation, Rio Ferdinand has been his solid self and Jonny Evans is quite frankly one of the best centre backs in the league now despite those idiots who will tell you that he and Michael Carrick are useless. But most impressive of all has been the boy from Brazil.
I have always been a massive Rafael fan but it was legitimate to ask some questions of his last season. He didn’t play as he could and it was a semi-disappointing campaign from him. However, ever since Fabio left, a move that some speculated could ruin Rafael, he’s matured no end. There are no rash tackles, no poor decisions and no silly bookings (well, much less anyway).
Rafael’s talent should never have been questioned. He’s a fine tackler, an intelligent defender and his concentration has improved big time. This is a kid who has marked Bale, Ribery and many more class players out of games and yet has always managed to be criticised. His ridiculously harsh sending off against Bayern Munich led some to say Ribery had ripped him to shreds but frankly anyone who watched the ties will tell you Ribery was a non-entity save his deflected free kick.
Performances throughout the years have directed us to his immense potential but at times, he’s struggled for consistency. This season has been completed different. Save the game against Reading where he was simply tormented by Jobi McAnuff, Rafael has been flawless, personally he’s been my player of the season with Robin van Persie a close second.
Not only has Rafael defended very well, his attacking has been its usually class self. A better dribbler than most wingers in the league and a very under-rated crosser of the ball, Rafael has developed a partnership with Antonio Valencia where, right now, with Valencia in a shocking run of form, he looks the more dangerous going forward. Two goals and assists in the Premier League is a solid return for a right back and it’s rare to find a right back who can contribute so well at both ends of the pitch.
This is not to say Rafael has no weakness. His height means he’s often targeted in the air with Southampton’s first goal in the 3-2 win being an example. However, I struggle to find any other area of Rafael’s game he can improve majorly. For a 22=year old to be so well rounded is quite the achievement and frankly, I think he’s the best right back in the league with Pablo Zabaleta being his only real contender.
I can’t imagine it’s long before he gets real recognition internationally. His excellent Olympics was overshadowed by a poor pass that led to a Mexican goal but the lack of a passing option was down to the lack of width that Menezes has chosen. As usual, Rafael was made the scapegoat and came into the season with more calling him poor or dodgy. How he has responded. Rafael has been good enough that it is reasonable to suggest that in terms of form, he’s up with Zabaleta and Lahm as the best right backs in the world (before anyone starts screaming about Alves and Debuchy, one has been injured and one not particularly impressive).
It’s quite the upward improvement for Rafael. He’s always had promise but this season he’s shown the actual ability he has. Alongside De Gea, Smalling and Evans we have three of a back four that could go on for some time. Rafael has swiftly moved from scapegoat to integral team member, following the well trodden path that Evans and Carrick have already completed. The next time you ever become cynical about football, check Rafael Da Silva’s Tumblr – look and laugh. Then watch him on the pitch and you won’t be laughing. You will come to the realisation that most have already made; Rafael da Silva is golden.