Rafael and Fabio Da Silva have come a long way since arriving at United four years ago, and after a season where both players have had regular stints in the first team, is the potential seen in them finally being realised?
It was unusual news around Old Trafford back in the spring of 2007 when it was announced that a deal had been struck with Brazilian club Fluminense to sign two teenage, identical twin brothers who hadn’t made a single appearance for the clubs’ first team. Spotted initially by scout Les Kershaw in 2005 he was immediately impressed with the work ethic, athleticism and raw determination of the youngsters and, soon after, plans were put in place to bring the duo back to Manchester.
What has struck me most about these two talented boys from Brazil is just how quickly they have both adapted to the physicality and pace of the English game. Many young Latin American talents appear to find the Premier League difficult to adapt to quickly, and often prefer to develop their football in easier, less intense environments, the Dutch Eredivisie or La Liga of Spain for example. However over recent years more young Latin American players have been filtering over to Premier League clubs. Anderson, also with United, and Lucas Leiva of Liverpool are two examples, but neither has made such a dramatic impact so quickly in top flight English football as the twins, being younger in age too.
The most impressive aspect, for me, of both of the Da Silvas’ games is the desire to get stuck in. Described initially by Kershaw as “two little whippets” the comparison can be easily understood once you’ve seen these two play. Originally a striker in his fledgling years, Rafael, and Fabio too, also possess the great attacking qualities associated with the modern defensive wing back, particularly Brazilian wing backs. In a similar mould to Cafu and Roberto Carlos of yesteryear, and the likes of Maicon or Dani Alves in the current top flight, it seems that Brazil has a certain pedigree for breeding the all round defensive, but attackingly skilful, players.
As a testament of how good these two really are, and confirmation of how highly they are rated in terms of quality by the coaching staff at United, and in particular Sir Alex Ferguson, Gary Neville was allowed to retire mid season to pave way for the twins. In stepping down with such ease, and without worry for the squad as a whole, a significant amount of trust was placed in them, especially Rafael, who favours the right hand side of defence over the left, which is Fabio’s preferred position.
In Neville, who although retired is still very much involved with the club, and Patrice Evra – arguably one of the top left backs in the world, the Da Silvas have two exceptional role models for their favoured positions and I’m sure that this is one reason why they have rapidly improved in quality since arriving at Old Trafford.
It was in the Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich last season that the inexperience of Rafael, who up until that point had received much more first team opportunity than his brother, was, in a way, highlighted. After receiving a yellow card in each half he was sent off in this crucial game leading to an almighty comeback from the German team and ultimately an away goals win, knocking United out.
This seemed to highlight an underlying flaw in both of the twins’ games. The rashness of some of their tackles, and inexperience in making them, often resulted in either receiving bookings. On occasion the card was actually given to the wrong twin! After the game Ferguson did not condemn Rafael but in fact praised the youngster for his swashbuckling display. He stated that Rafael “absolutely dominated Franck Ribery,” and in hindsight it is easy to see how even the most experienced of defenders could encounter problems when facing the athletic Frenchman.
Both of the brothers have come a long way since then however and this season have made many first team appearances, Rafael making the right back position his own after the retirement of United legend Gary Neville and Fabio stepping in whenever Patrice Evra is unavailable or in need of a rest.
As another successful season for the red side of Manchester draws to a close, and a prominent year for the Brazilian twins is nearly concluded, with only Barcelona standing in the way of a double for United, they will certainly be tested if either, or both, start in the Champions League final.
The sheer class of Messi, Villa, Xavi and Iniesta will surely highlight exactly how far the twins have come in the last two seasons.
Nevertheless one certainty is that they have very bright futures ahead of them.