The dismissal of Rafael in the Champions League game against Bayern Munich in March 2010 stands at the front of the mind but there have been plenty of high points such as Rafael’s equaliser at Anfield in October, inscribing his name in United folklore for years to come as well as an appearance for Fabio in the 2011 Champions League final.
And, there have also been a few humorous moments along the way including a case of mistaken identity in the League Cup a few years ago as well as Rafael wearing boots with Fabio’s name on against Fulham last week.
The Da Silva twins were first unearthed by Manchester United scouts in 2005 when Les Kershaw spotted the Brazilians playing in Hong Kong in the Premier Youth Cup. Kershaw described the twins, who were at the time playing for Brazilian outfit Fluminese, as a “pair of whippets” and they had already drawn comparisons with legendary attacking fullbacks Roberto Carlos and Cafu.
The potential of the promising duo was clear for all to see and they were invited to train for United. After spurning the advances of Arsenal, the pair eventually signed for United in 2007, officially joining the club in January 2008 – but how have they fared in their first four years at Old Trafford?
Rafael Da Silva made his debut in July 2008 when he appeared in a 2-0 friendly victory against Peterborough. Handed the #21 shirt, he made his league debut against Newcastle when he replaced Frazier Campbell late on. His first start for the club came against Middlesbrough in the League Cup before the young defender made his first Champions League appearance when United faced Aalborg.
Rafael scored his first goal for the club in December when he netted a consolation in the 2-1 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates. Fabio also scored his first United goal against Arsenal when he netted in the 2011 FA Cup game at Old Trafford – a happy coincidence.
By the season’s conclusion, he had been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award alongside teammate Jonny Evans. As a sign of the progress he had made in his debut campaign, Rafael signed a new deal that tied him to the club until 2013. In his first season in England, he had made 28 appearances for the club and showcased exactly why Ferguson brought him to Old Trafford.
While Rafael had always shown plenty of attacking promise during his first season, it was pretty clear that his rash style of defending needed plenty of polishing. While he has and always will be a tenacious player, there was still a raw part to Rafael’s game which was particularly evident in United’s 2009/10 Champions League campaign.
The young fullback was dismissed against Bayern Munich in March 2010 after picking up two bookings. United would eventually be eliminated by the away goals rule and the scapegoat brigade were out in full force as Rafael bore the brunt of many of the criticism. Sir Alex Ferguson publicly defended the Brazilian, stating that he “absolutely dominated Franck Ribery,” high praise indeed.
Moments such as this were typical of the early Rafael. Moments of inexperience and an obsession to be “touch-tight” saw him often labelled a liability.
Rafael went on to make 28 appearances in 2010/11 including 16 in the league, despite suffering from injuries and suspensions. He was dismissed for the second time in his United career against Tottenham Hotspur and it was clear he was steadily improving as a player as the club won title number 19 in May.
Injuries meant that Rafael missed a size-able chunk of the 2011/12 campaign and this, coupled with the early season form of Chris Smalling and summer signing Phil Jones, meant he struggled to get on the pitch. However, after Smalling and Jones suffered injuries and from a loss of form, Rafael began to get more minutes on the pitch.
While he did make high-profile errors in both the home leg against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League and was at fault for a number of Everton goals in the disastrous 4-4 draw, his attacking play was really flourishing as he and Antonio Valencia developed an almost telepathic understanding down the right flank which was United’s most dangerous outlet for the whole second half of the season.
Rafael, now 22, has been a virtual ever-present in the side. Both him and Valencia were handed new shirt numbers for the new season with Valencia switching to the iconic #7 while Rafael was handed the #2 shirt, a number which had been vacant since Gary Neville had retired 18 months previously.
But, while Valencia struggled with the weight and expectation that comes with the iconic #7 shirt, Rafael rose to the occasion and United’s new #2 has looked to be every bit as good as the last recipient of the number. It seems his involvement with Brazil in the London 2012 Olympics was a stepping stone to his season with the experience of going the whole way to the final clearly helping him mature as a player.
The mistakes that had blighted his early career have now vanished. Gone are the days of rash tackles, impetuous play and silly yellows – Rafael had blossomed into the best right back in the league. While Gary Neville had to work hard on his attacking play, this was something that came naturally to the Brazilian. It was always a question of whether Rafael could ever develop into a solid defender and the fullback has answered the question rather emphatically.
Rafael’s energy, drive and enthusiasm have made him a fans favourite at Old Trafford. He is now an accomplished defender as well as being an effective attacking threat, far more effective in fact than his usual partner in crime Antonio Valencia.
So while Rafael has been establishing himself as one of the most well-rounded right-backs on the planet, what has happened to his twin brother Fabio?
An interesting question. Interestingly, Fabio was rated higher than Rafael by United scouts but injuries have curtailed his United career with his competitive debut being delayed until late-January 2009 due to injury. But, Fabio did start the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2010 which suggests that Sir Alex Ferguson trusted Fabio more than twin brother Rafael on the big stage, not a surprise given his disciplinary record at the time.
So then, it seems strange that Fabio currently finds himself on loan at Queens Park Rangers at bottom of the Premier League. Fabio has been in the spotlight of late after scoring his first goal for the London club in their defeat to MK Dons recently as well as keeping two clean sheets in his last two appearances.
“My mind is only on this season right now, and I have to get the team out of relegation problems. But yes, I definitely want to play games, and I did not play a lot of games at United – that’s why I left. The more games you play the more mature you get. When you play every week, you get more confidence and you play much better.” Fabio
It does seem strange that as yet, Fabio hasn’t fulfilled his potential like his brother. However, for those who watched QPR in their recent draw against Tottenham, they would have witnessed a masterful performance against Aaron Lennon as the in-form Tottenham winger got no joy against Da Silva – it was a deeply impressive display.
Undoubtedly, the reason Fabio has not enjoyed a meteoric rise like his brother is mainly due to United’s current first choice left back Patrice Evra. Evra has played virtually every minute of football in the past few seasons, meaning that game time was very hard to come by for Fabio. However, should Fabio perform to a good standard for the remainder of the current campaign, as well as remain clear of injuries, it seems logical that Fabio can feasibly provide a realistic challenge to the Frenchmen next year.
See, for all of the early promise shown by Alex Buttner, particularly in his impressive debut against Wigan, he is a player who needs to improve. Defensively, he is not good enough and a loan spell could seem him improve tenfold as a player.
If Fabio can get a good run of games for the rest of the season, he should be equipped with all of the necessary tools needed to compete for the left-back slot and just maybe, with a decent run in the United team, he can blossom just like his brother on the opposite side of defence.
This is certainly a prospect I am sure many United fans would relish – two hungry, tenacious, reliable fullback brothers playing regularly for United – ring a bell at all?