I highlight the word emergence because to be honest, he’s been emerging for a while now. This season seems to be the one where it has all come together.
The right-back has always been a favourite of mine. Despite whispers that Fabio was the better of the two when they arrived, Rafael has always looked the more likely to succeed at Old Trafford.
His first season was very exciting. Back in 2008, when had Ronaldo and Tevez, our attacking play was usually brilliant and the young Brazilian fitted in well. His swashbuckling style and unlimited enthusiasm made him an instant hit, and who can forget that sweet left-foot volley against Arsenal.
After that, came the question marks.
He seemed to have regular lapses in concentration and was rash in the challenge. He was young though, this would pass.
And it did. Only then, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling demonstrated their ability to play full-back. On top of that, Rafael started to pick up a few injuries and all of this led to a stop-start emergence into the first team.
This season is different. Still only 22, Rafael has probably been the best full-back in the league after Leighton Baines. But where Baines has faltered slightly (as have Everton as a whole), Rafael has gone from strength to strength.
Sir Alex recently compared to him to Gary Neville, suggesting he will be our right-back for years to come. He spoke of Rafael’s maturity and lack of mistakes this season, and that is in a team that has already conceded 25 goals, so he must be doing something right.
His decision making defensively has improved a lot, and in attack he has reigned himself in just enough to benefit the team as a whole. Despite the fact that Antonio Valencia and particularly Nani haven’t been at their best this season, Rafael has ensured that our right flank is still highly productive.
Starting the season in that amazing Brazil Olympic team probably helped too. He was able to ease into the United team, already match fit, and shows no sign of fatigue (touch wood).
Rafael was always earmarked as a future star around Old Trafford but this season he’s started to show everyone else (and maybe even a few Reds) just how good he is.
He was voted our player of the month in September (well deserved recognition in my opinion) but still lost out to Carl Jenkinson in a recent BBC team of the year so far.
Now I couldn’t care less what the BBC ‘pundits’ think, but to me this shows that he still isn’t rated particularly highly outside of the club.
And who cares? While the rest of the Premier League think the Brazilian is just a talented-but-rash youngster, Rafael is quietly developing into one of the best full-backs in European football.