Since being spotting by Manchester United scouts when they were 15, with the da Silva twins have gone from strength to strength, Rafael in particularly. He’s close to half a century of appearances for the first team despite only being 20-years-old. With Gary Neville, Wes Brown and even John O’Shea occupying his preferred right-back position, this season Rafael should see his opportunity to push himself in to the first XI. His quality isn’t just recognised in Manchester though, with him being called up to the Brazil squad for the first time too.
Rafael talks to us about his hopes for this season, his brother’s career and the strength of the Premiership.
Republik of Mancunia: Sir Alex Ferguson says he does not need to sign more players this summer. Do you think the current squad is strong enough to recapture the title?
Rafael: We have an amazing group of players and if there is anybody who knows what he’s doing, then of course it is Sir Alex. I think back to last season, when we were badly damaged by so many injuries which in many matches forced us to field players in unfamiliar positions. Yet we still managed to finish second in the Premiership and made it to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Our story could have been different if we had more luck injuries and that gives me great faith in the players we have at the club.
RoM: The Premier League or the Champions League. Which competition do you believe United have the best chance of winning this season?
R: I think it’s natural for a club the size of Manchester United to aim high every season, so it is a difficult question to answer. The players have to do our part on the pitch but with this group, we can certainly think we are capable of going far in every competition. This does not change at such a club as United.
RoM: You have played many more first team games at Old Trafford than your twin brother Fabio. Do you agree that this could be a watershed season for him at United?
R: Of course, it is an important season and I am very glad he stayed at United. He’s a great players and I believe that this year he will show people that like me he is a fighter who will never give up. His big problem has been his injuries and the fact that Patrice Evra has been playing so well at left back. There have been more opportunities for me at right back. Some people in Brazil thought that it was quite ironic that I was called up for the national team first before Fabio, because they certainly need more left-backs than right-backs these days.
RoM: As a United player, how does it feel watching neighbours Manchester City spending millions and millions on new players?
R: Whatever happens at other clubs is not really any of our business. It is no surprise that City are again spending a lot of money. But there isn’t a single day that I don’t pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming about playing for Manchester United. I came straight from the youth academy at Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro and now I am playing at Old Trafford. This is all I think of, it is my dream.
RoM: But do you believe City can be genuine challengers to United and Chelsea for the title or should they merely aim for a top four finish and Champions League qualification?
R: They certainly have a good squad, it is strong and they have quality players. I do not think anyone could argue with that. But things in football do not always follow in reality what happens on paper. There are at least six teams fighting for four places and we will respect all of our rivals this season.
RoM: Do you agree with the argument that Italy and Spain have caught up with Premier League in terms of quality? Is the recent English club dominance in Europe under threat after no Premier League side made it past the quarter-finals?
R: Let us not forget that last season was the first time in years that no English team made it to at least the semi-finals, so I believe it is too soon to talk of a crisis. It is an exaggeration. The Premier League is not the only big league in Europe and does not simply have a right to succeed in Europe. Also, the Champions League is an incredibly tough tournament to win and the fact no side has been able to defend the trophy since the competition began tells its own story. I am confident we and the other English teams will do well again this season.”
RoM: That Brazil call-up by Mano Menezes was for the friendly against the USA. Do you believe that you can challenge Maicon and Dani Alves for a place in the side?
R: I am not in a hurry to challenge those guys because they are world class and I am at the beginning of my career and it would be foolish to think I can come into the squad and not need time to adapt to such new surroundings. It was my first call up and I believe the manager wanted to test me for the Olympic team. London 2012 is a more immediate objective for me, especially because Brazil have never won the gold medal at the Games. Of course, I want to carve out my own space in the Brazil team in the future but at this time and I see both Maicon and Dani Alves as inspirations and not rivals. They both waited for their chances with Brazil and climbed up the ranks. I intend to do the same.
RoM: Do you believe you can reach the same level they have achieved in their international careers?
R: I believe a right back gets to the peak of his powers around the age of 27, which means I have seven years to work on my game then. I have learned a lot in the last two seasons at Manchester United and I am happy with the progress I have made so far. But I cannot fool myself and think I am yet at the same level as guys like Maicon and Dani Alves.
Please refer back to RoM if you are to use any of these quotes. Ta.