Fan Favourite: Rafael da Silva, Manchester United’s cult hero

Rafael da Silva agreed to join Manchester United alongside his twin brother, Fabio, in 2007 before the pair were 18. When they turned 18, they joined, and Rafael quickly established himself as a firm favourite with the United faithful and staking his claim for the starting spot at right back.

It can take some players some time to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League, but Rafael took to it like a duck to water, being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of his first season. He continued his strong performances under Sir Alex Ferguson, with his most successful season coinciding with Sir Alex’s final season at Old Trafford. That season, Rafael picked up his third Premier League winners’ medal, making forty appearances and scoring three goals along the way.

It was a career which spanned eight years, with the Brazilian being sold to Lyon in 2015 by Louis Van Gaal. He had a strong relationship with Ferguson, and the Brazilian came across as a player who needed re-assurance and guidance from his manager. Whilst Ferguson provided this, enabling Rafael to flourish, a single season under Louis Van Gaal quickly put a dark cloud over the end of his United tenure.

He initially appeared to be firmly in Van Gaal’s plans, starting six consecutive games before an injury halted that. He only started one more game, but it became clear Van Gaal had lost patience with the right-back, who was still only 25 when he was sold to Lyon in August 2015.

He had been told that the Dutchman didn’t like Brazilians, but it first seemed as though there was no issue. However, when Rafael picked up another injury in what turned out to be his final start, Van Gaal questioned his commitment. This hit home hard for him, as he felt he’d given his all for United for long enough to not have such questions, and it put a dark cloud over what had been a successful career hitherto. Rafael hasn’t avoided his feelings about this:

“I love Manchester United, but I was so desperate to leave United. Only one man did that because I liked everything about the place. I couldn’t handle him anymore.”

He has spoken about potentially returning to the club in the future, whether it be in a scouting capacity or as a coach. Though his United career ended in less than ideal circumstances, it is good to see he still has a place for Manchester in his heart.

He’s still only 27 and is playing at a high level at Lyon alongside fellow former red, Memphis. Last season he played 24 games in Ligue 1, showing that he’s managed to continue with a stable career unlike many who have curtailed off after leaving the club.

Rafael remains the same feisty full-back he was at United, often giving the fans nervous moments because he loved a tackle, which did mean some disciplinary issues. He will also be remembered for some really good goals, especially a piledriver against Queens Park Rangers and a great curling effort against Liverpool.

Had it not been for a falling out with Van Gaal he may still be at the club, and his desire to play would be something which would please Jose Mourinho. And, given what he has said, hopefully, he will return to the club at some point in the future in whatever capacity.

Written by Rob Potter

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