Updated: Saturday, 15th August 2020 @ 6:31am

Debate: Forget Sagna, Zabaleta and Walker... Manchester United's Rafael da Silva is now league's best rightback

Debate: Forget Sagna, Zabaleta and Walker... Manchester United's Rafael da Silva is now league's best rightback

Comment by James Scott

Marauding fullback Rafael da Silva is firmly repaying the faith bestowed on him by Sir Alex Ferguson with an ever-improving maturity in Manchester United’s defence.

The 22-year-old Brazilian continues to grow in confidence this season and has firmly staked his claim to be the regular custodian of the rightback berth.

Though United’s defensive frailties have been well documented, the Red Devils have more points at this stage than in any of their previous seasons.

While a backline beset by injuries has relied on the consistent outlay of Robin van Persie, Rafael has thrived from a long run in the team.

His cavalier style of play and rash decision-making has been replaced by calmness in his defensive duties and a reluctance to make over-zealous challenges.

In a porous season for Barclays Premier League defenders, Rafael looks a more natural and effective rightback than rivals Pablo Zabaleta, Branislav Ivanovic, Kyle Walker and Bacary Sagna.

Sir Alex could have been forgiven for having doubts about the Rio-born wingback after his performance for Brazil in the London 2012 Olympic Games football final.

In Rafael’s dress rehearsal ahead of re-joining the United squad, his wayward back-pass gifted Mexico a crucial goal, he argued with compatriot Juan and responded petulantly to substitution.

The start of Rafael’s tenure at right back was often characterised by high profile mistakes, such as his sending off against Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League semi-final.

In hindsight Sir Alex’s gamble in rewarding Da Silva with the No. 2 shirt – occupied for the best part of two decades by Gary Neville – looks like a masterstroke.

While Rafael’s twin brother Fabio da Silva was sent on loan to Queens Park Rangers, where he has floundered in a relegation scrap, Rafael has flourished.

Rafael has more appearances at this midway point in the season than any previous campaign, scoring as many goals as he managed in his career as a Red.

There is evidence that the young Brazilian could grab more important goals for United after his spectacular equaliser against Liverpool at Anfield, minutes after Steven Gerrard’s opener.

Rafael still has a tendency to let recklessness creep back into his game; he was hauled off by Sir Alex against Reading after shipping three goals in half an hour.

But the fullback’s boundless energy and attacking potency has certainly been aided with his double act with Antonio Valencia up the right flank. 

The industrious Ecuadorian compliments the Brazilian’s style, and the pair will be given the ultimate task in shackling Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the upcoming Champions League ties.

The Brazilian appears to have solved the conundrum of replacing Neville at rightback, after less successful attempts by Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

Indeed Sir Alex claimed in November that Rafael is more naturally talented than the aforementioned Neville, and with added maturity and improved positioning, the Brazilian can eclipse him.

Rafael, who became a father last year, signed a four-year contract in the summer and stated his desire to play at Old Trafford for another ten years.

The gamble made by Sir Alex in signing an 18-year-old Fluminense youth player, described as a whippet by his scout, has well and truly paid off.

Whether he can become the best Brazilian right-back is another matter, but with Maicon and Dani Alves entering the autumns of their careers, you wouldn’t bet against him.

Image courtesy of Nike Football via YouTube, with thanks

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