|Birthdate:||09 Jul 1990|
|Birthplace:||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil|
|Joined United:||01 Jul 2008|
|United Debut:||17 Aug 2008 v Newcastle (H)|
Rio de Janeiro-born Rafael is very much a modern full-back: he loves to bomb down the right flank – but he’s not all just Brazilian flair, he’s also made of tough stuff.
Rafael is a full Brazil international and settled quicker than his twin Fabio after making his debut against Peterborough in Barry Fry’s testimonial back in August, 2008. It was soon evident United had a ready-made first-teamer on their hands, even though he was only 18 at the time. Finally, it was the end of one long journey from his former Brazilian club Fluminense, and the start of a new one with United. What made Rafael’s debut all the more startling was that he hadn’t played for over a year. The Reds had been waiting for international clearance on the pair’s transfer from Brazil, so they had been unable to turn out for United during that time and, in fact, didn’t play any regular competitive football. Both brothers were spotted by Les Kershaw, then Academy Manager, in the summer of 2005 while playing for Fluminense in a Hong Kong youth tournament. Rafael seems dauntless, and his ten-minute cameo on his competitive debut against Newcastle appeared to back up that claim, as did his first goal in a red shirt – a stunning last-minute volley in the defeat at Arsenal in November 2008. He quickly began stringing together top-level performances, displacing fit-again club captain Gary Neville and England international Wes Brown at various stages of the campaign. Rafael copes with high-pressure matches with a calm which belies his tender years. Sir Alex Ferguson handed Rafael a two-year contract extension before the defender had even completed his first season in England. The Brazilian ended 2008/09 with a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, and a place on the bench in the Champions League final, just a year after watching from the stands in Moscow. Injuries blighted Rafael’s second season at United. Shoulder trouble in pre-season meant his first appearance of 2009/10 only came in late October, and an ankle injury sustained in the Carling Cup final limited him to just two starts from March onwards. But there were still highlights, including a goal against Wigan and some eye-catching displays in the Champions League. On a dramatic night against Bayern Munich, however, he spoiled a fabulous display by getting sent off for a second yellow card. Clearly distraught, it was a harsh lesson for the South American whose only crime had been to be a little impetuous, particularly after being targeted by the German side when on a booking, with ten-man United crashing out on the away goals rule. Nonetheless, he put the incident behind him to edge his way towards being first-choice for much of the 2010/2011 season, combining bravery, technique and limitless energy to great effect. The manager tended to alternate the Brazilian with John O’Shea, although the Reds were well stocked for right-backs with Gary Neville and Wes Brown also in the mix. Injury proved to be his undoing and, ironically, it was to be Fabio who took the full-back slot for the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona while Rafael watched from the stands. After starting the Community Shield win over Manchester City at the start of 2011/12, the injury curse struck again when Rafael dislocated his shoulder and kept him out until late November. His return – in the forgettable Carling Cup defeat to Crystal Palace – was shortlived when he pulled a hamstring during the game, ensuring he was sidelined until the New Year’s Eve loss to Blackburn (during which he played in midfield alongside Ji-sung Park). He impressed at right-back thereafter, when he got the nod over closest competitor for the spot, Phil Jones, and linked up particularly well with Antonio Valencia in attack. He was rewarded for his endeavours in July 2012 when he signed a new four-year deal until the end of the 2015/16 campaign.