The arrival of identical twins, both full-backs and Under-18 internationals for Brazil, slipped under the radar of most Reds. For those in the know, whispers abounded about the former Fluminense pair who were dubbed, unimaginatively, the ‘Samba Nevilles’.
Rafael impressed in pre-season at Peterborough and during his competitive debut against Newcastle, and has tasted more first-team action since, notably scoring against Arsenal at the weekend. Former Red Clayton Blackmore has watched with interest as Rafael has slotted into Sir Alex’s side, whether in the Premier League, Carling Cup or Champions League.
“Rafael’s been fantastic,” says Blackmore. “He’s like a breath of fresh air. He’s got so much energy, he’s lightning fast and he loves to get stuck in and make a tackle, which is perfect for the English game. He’s very similar to Patrice Evra in the way that he likes to charge forward. I think he’ll be well suited to a wing-back role, which is how we like to play these days.”
Sir Alex recently admitted that he’d been so impressed by his new no.21 that he now considers three players when selecting his right-back. Rafael got the nod when the Reds faced Aalborg on Champions League Matchday 2, and the youngster seized the opportunity.
“He wasn’t fazed by playing at the highest level and he was probably one of our best players that night,” Blackmore says. “He was cutting inside, shooting; he was playing in a similar way to Ronaldo. Obviously he doesn’t have quite as many tricks as Ronny, but he does look very comfortable with the ball at his feet.”
Blackmore, who often played at full-back during his 245-game United career, is quick to point out, however, that Rafael is far from the finished article. Experience will help him become that, insists the Welshman.
“He’ll be learning every day on the training ground from Gary, Wes and Patrice,” he says. “And don’t forget he’ll be up against the likes of Ronaldo, Nani and Park, too, so he’ll soon learn how to stop the best wingers in the world.”
Can we expect to see more of the tireless young Brazilian this season? Blackmore thinks so… “Wes and Gary are ahead of Rafael in the pecking order, but the manager won’t hesitate to give him games, especially when we find ourselves regularly playing twice a week.”