I love the Da Silva twins. My friend taping Made In Brazil, a documentary about them, was the nicest thing anyone has done for me for a while! Whilst not wanting to get too carried away about them, and able to recognise their flaws, I just think they’re great. I love their attitude, I love how they play, I love that we have two of them and they look exactly the same (I know that’s a bit of a shit reason to love them, but it is actually a contributing factor), and I’d be made up if they proved good enough to hold down the full-back starting places in our line-up for the next ten years.
Watching the programme that was aired on MUTV a few weeks ago, it was apparent just how important their friends and family are to them. They come from a humble background but it is clear just how well loved they are. Their father was moved to tears on several occasions when talking about the pride he felt for them.
The entire family live together in Manchester and the twins’ young children call both Rafael and Fabio “daddy”. The move to Manchester was a stressful one for them, but has been aided by the fact everyone they love has now joined them. But it was the right move the twins.
“Them leaving Fluminese to go to Manchester was the best thing to happened in our lives,” said their father. Known as Zecao when he played football, due to his eagerness to win the ball and put in a tackle, their dad, Jose Maria Da Silva, was a prominent feature of the documentary. He talked about how he cried with his wife when he found out she was pregnant with twins as they could barely afford the child they had, Ricky.
Where they lived, there was no electricity, there were no buses, and the houses were self-made shacks with corrugated iron roofs.
The twins began their football career at local side Boa Esperanca, with only one pair of football boots between them and football shorts down to their ankles. Their football coach was a friend of their dad’s and sometimes stayed over at the house to mind the boys when their parents were working night shifts to support the family.
When they were 11-years-old, Fluminese spotted them and were keen to sign them up. The Rio de Janeiro club were based 18 hours away from their Aranas home though, meaning the boys had to move away.
“Once I went to watch them play, my God, I came off the pitch with them, I couldn’t even look them in the eye,” their dad said with tears in his eyes. “They went up the hill and they were waving. Even today it still gets me. They were only small, walking up that hill to the academy. When I left I was so sad. My heart was aching. I said to them ‘Look we may be suffering, but tomorrow it will be worth it.’”
Four United scouts came to watch the brothers play in the Premier Cup and they didn’t disappoint. They were approached after the game and Rafael recalled how he was keen to sign for United as they were the “biggest club in the world”. Talking with Fabio back in Brazil, Rafael said that their decision to sign for United was the best decision of their lives.
Initially, it was Rafael who came to Carrington on trial, although his brother joined him shortly afterwards. Before Fabio made the move, Rafael was accompanied by his father, who was needed to drive him around as the youngster didn’t have a driver’s license. Their dad said that the club had offered Rafael a car but they weren’t prepared to give it to him until he passed his test. “The English are very strict”, reflected their father.
It all could have been a very different story for the lads though, with Arsenal keen to sign them both up, but the manner in which they approached the Da Silvas put them both off.
“The scout said he was from Arsenal and invited us to come and train,” Rafael said a few years ago. “At that time we had already been to see Manchester United and train once with our club’s permission. But this man wanted to take us to England and say nothing to Fluminense. We disagreed with that principle. Fluminense was where we started, we had been there for years and they looked after us.”
Fabio was just as unimpressed with Arsenal’s tapping up and was just as keen to honour the agreement to sign for United.
“It was upsetting,” he said. “We could have signed there and then and taken all the money and Fluminense would have got nothing. But our mother said ‘No, Fluminense have been good to you. You went there when you were 11. I want you to do everything right’. So we said we would sign for Manchester as it would be the best thing for us and Fluminense. So we signed and ignored the man pushing Arsenal.”
Thankfully, they did sign for United, and we get to see, particularly through Rafael, just how much that means to them.
After the disappointing 1-1 draw with Southampton at the weekend, Rafael took to Instagram to cheer us up, posting a picture of himself in our shirt with the caption “United till I die”. When we play against Liverpool and City, games United don’t seem up for these days, Rafael always looks like he’s walking the fine line of getting sent off. That’s fairly nerve-racking at the time, but at least he shows he gives a shit. I loved seeing him square up to Carlos Tevez on derby day a few years ago, and laughing at him after Van Persie’s late winner last season. He goes mental when we score big goals and behaves like a fan on and off the pitch. In 2010 he was at fault for a late Spurs equaliser and two minutes after being subbed off Nani put us back in front. He went nuts on the bench, not sulking like plenty of other Premier League players would, showing just how important the result was to him.
“Since I arrived here, the fans have been amazing, singing songs for me or stopping me and telling me I’m a true Red!” he said last season, after scoring against Liverpool. “I’ve been coming here to training since I was 15 years old, a long time, so I feel like I am a true Red.”
A couple of months earlier, Rafael was rewarded with a new contract at the club, after making the right-back starting position his own.
“I am so happy to sign a new contract,” he said. “I love playing for Manchester United, there is a great team spirit here and a real desire to win. My time here has been unbelievable; winning two league titles, a league cup and a Club World Cup has made me hungry for more trophies. I would like to thank Sir Alex for his belief in me and I would also like to thank the fans for their support.”
Ferguson was full of praise for our Brazilian and even tipped him to become one of our best ever full-backs.
“Rafael is one of the club’s brightest young prospects; he has no fear of playing and has great belief in himself,” said the manager. “The boy has developed immensely since joining United, his energy and enthusiasm are a joy to watch. Rafael has all the attributes to become one of the best full-backs in the world and I am delighted he has signed a new contract.”
Ferguson’s praise for Rafael and his brother had been evident before then though, with our former manager likening their mentality to that of Bryan Robson’s.
“The two of them are terrific talents,” said Ferguson. “They’re so sturdy. They’re strong boys. They always put a foot in, in terms of attacking-wise, and are always getting injured going into attacking moves. The boys just don’t see danger. Bryan Robson was that way too, ‘Bang, on they go’. They’re only 21, you know, they’re young. You forget they were in the team as teenagers. They are both excellent talents and really positive players. It’s what I love about them. They don’t have an inkling of fear in the way they play at all. They’ve always been really positive lads and it’s the Brazilian nature.”
Wes Brown, the player who Ferguson described as the most natural defender he’d ever worked with, was full of praise of the Da Silva boys. In 2010, when they were just 20-years-old, he described them as the future of the club.
“They are great lads who train so hard,” said Wes. “They just have this great desire to win. You can see whenever they play they are totally focused on doing their best for the team – and see how much they love driving forward as well as defending. As long as they keep progressing, I don’t see any reason why they can’t become our first-choice full-backs in future.”
Ryan Giggs was equally as complimentary earlier that year, hailing Rafael as the best young player in his position in the world.
“When you train with Rafael, he’s trying to kick you and it keeps you motivated,” said Giggs. “You’re against the best young right-back in Britain – probably the best in the world. You’ve got to be at your best just to stay in touch in training.”
Even when Rafael was just 18-years-old, Ferguson reckoned the Brazilian was better than anything England had to offer.
“Gary and Wes are England’s best right full-backs,” said Ferguson. “But they have a little problem because this young boy Rafael has really taken off. All the players, Gary included, are so supportive of him. They think he is fantastic. It is rare for someone to come through like he has done. When Gary did it, he had help. He was among six or seven young players all together, like a band of brothers. This lad doesn’t speak the language that well but he understands the football very well.”
It’s not just their defensive work that deserves praise though, but what they are capable of on the attack. Rafael’s best goal for United came against QPR last season, with Fabio on loan at the West London club. Fabio was unable to play, due to the terms of the deal, and had to stop himself from celebrating.
“I was pleased to see my brother score a goal like that,” he told GloboEsporte. “Naturally I wanted to celebrate. But I was sat next to the QPR president! I told him afterwards: ‘You never score goals like that! You had to do it against my new team!’ But I was happy for him.”
A few weeks before, Rafael played in boots with “Fabio” stitched in to them. Our hearts melted, just as they did when Rafael had scored goals and pointed to his brother on the bench at United, believing that he wanted to honour his brother. In reality, the reason behind the boots was a fuck up by Nike, with them sending Fabio’s boots to Manchester and Rafael’s boots to London.
Whilst Rafael has had the more successful time at United, we shouldn’t forget that Fabio has also had his moments, most notably being chosen ahead of his brother to start at right-back in the Champions League final in 2011.
“He was destroyed because he really wanted to play,” Fabio said of Ferguson’s decision to start him ahead of his brother for that game. “For me, of course, it was unbelievable to play in the final but I knew he was not happy. I knew he wanted to play. Of course it didn’t change my game. I feel for him. I felt sorry for him. I didn’t feel complete because of this, but it was still fantastic.”
Fabio joined the club as the brighter prospect, having captained the Brazil U-17 side, and his transfer fee was slightly more than Rafael’s as a result. His older brother, who was unlucky not to have a professional career as a footballer himself, claimed Rafael was “more aggressive” but that Fabio had “more skill”. Their dad said Rafael was “more determined” whilst Fabio was “technically better”.
If making mental challenges and celebrating goals like a fan would isn’t enough to win the crowd over, Fabio’s public support to Patrice Evra in light of the fall out with Luis Suarez didn’t do him any harm. When Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand after being found guilty of racially abusing him, Fabio claimed Suarez’s behaviour inspired United to victory.
“I believe that in life it is always necessary to forgive,” he told Globoesporte.“Patrice wanted to forgive Suarez. In Anfield he was attacked, but at Old Trafford he offered the hand. The action of Suarez was not justified. For me, to reject the hand of someone is very serious. The action of the Uruguayan before the beginning of the match increased our force to defeat Liverpool. In the ground, there was calm and the rivalry. But after the action of Suarez, the tension exploded.”
Their best combined moment was Fabio’s goal against Arsenal in the 2011 FA Cup quarter-final. I remember clearly how I felt when hearing the team news as I walked up towards Old Trafford that day. Ferguson changed the team around completely and I thought we had no chance of beating the North London outfit. Rafael and Fabio were starting on the left and right wing for the first (and last) time in their United careers to date. Whilst both of them were clearly competent in going forward, it seemed bizarre to try out a positional move for both of them in such an important game.
With less than half an hour played, Ferguson was having the last laugh, as he usually did, after the pair combined to see Fabio put us 1-0 up. United went on to win 2-0.
However, whilst both of them have had their undoubted highs, they’ve also experienced huge lows at the club for players so young.
Rafael’s worst moment had to be his contribution to United’s Champions League exit in 2010, after he was sent off in the quarter-final against Bayern Munich. United were 3-1 up and cruising, but his second yellow a few minutes in to the second half, for a naive shirt tug on Franck Ribery, killed us. He was given a standing ovation from the Old Trafford crowd as he trudged off towards the tunnel, but I was far less forgiving. It was a soft sending off but one you could expect in the Champions League. I was absolutely furious with him, knowing that there was no way we would be able to cling on with ten for men for a whole half. That could have been our third consecutive Champions League final and his immaturity cost Ferguson another chance of winning the trophy we should have won more.
“It is a good experience for Rafael and he will definitely be a better player because of what happened,” said Evra. “When he gets some experience he will be different class. I know Rafael’s mentality. I am sure about him. He has a lot of hunger. This was just part of the development process. He will go on to become one of the best right-backs Manchester United have ever had.”
Whilst Fabio hasn’t been guilty of any mistakes as costly as that, he did see himself shipped off to the woeful QPR last season, with the inferior Buttner taking his place in the squad. God only knows what Fabio thought of that, with Evra hardly playing like a world-beater either.
Rafael has more or less claimed that starting right-back position but Fabio, who has struggled with even more injuries than his brother, has been overlooked during the past couple of seasons. With Evra not playing well, you’d think that Moyes would be willing to give Fabio a go on the left. Fabio was started at right-back, when his bother was injured, for our 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace, but that is his only appearance in all competitions this season.
Of course, Moyes knows far more than I do about the capability of these brothers, but there is something special about the pair of them that you hope to see rewarded with more game time. They’re only 23-years-old yet already in their sixth season in the first team. Much loved by the home fans, they’ve still yet to have a chant regularly sung in their name, and have rarely played together on opposite flanks. But these two are the real deal, proper United players, and I hope we get to see much more of them in the years to come.