As defending champions of England and Europe, an injury-ravaged Manchester United side took on Portsmouth in the second game of the 2008-09 season. We won 1-0 thanks to a scrappy goal from Darren Fletcher, but there was one player who our travelling fans had plenty of love for that evening: Rodrigo Possebon.
A few weeks earlier he had been flown out to join the rest of the squad in South Africa on tour and had been earning praise from those around the club. Brian McClair, then the director of the academy, was one of those impressed with the Brazilian teenager.
“Rodrigo is a tall, elegant midfielder who fits into the idea of a modern footballer,” he said. “He has very good ability and is a box-to-box player rather than your silky tricky midfielder. He’s very steady. Rodrigo also speaks very good English which has helped him. That makes a big difference. He is young and has come a long way from his home to England but he has settled in very well. He’s very level headed and we are pleased to have him.”
Having replaced Ryan Giggs for the final half an hour on the opening day against Newcastle, he was given 15 minutes at Fratton Park, coming on for compatriot Anderson, and the fans showed their appreciation.
A month went by before he played again, with Sir Alex Ferguson starting him against Middlesbrough in the League Cup. With the scoreline at 1-1, after Adam Johnson had cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening goal, Possebon went in for a challenge with Emanuel Pogatetz. The Austrian went in to the tackle with both feet off the ground, studs up, and sent Possebon flying up in to the air. After receiving treatment on the pitch for several minutes he was eventually stretchered off, receiving gas and air, after what had been an impressive performance up until that point.
It was feared that Possebon had broken his leg and Pogatetz had a prior record for this. When playing for Spartak Moscow, he broke the leg of an opponent and was handed a six month ban.
After the game, then Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate came to see Sir Alex Ferguson to apologise, despite his coaching staff leaping off the bench bemoaning the red card at the time. Not long after, Pogatetz claimed he would be calling the teenager to apologise.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was manager of the Reserves at the time, talked of how impressed he was with Possebon and the other young players in the team. When it was announced that Possebon hadn’t broken his leg, supporters were relieved, believing he was certainly one of our players for the future. Ferguson went as far as claiming we had another Class of 96 on our hands, with Possebon one of the players our manager singled out.
He had been flagged up by our scout in Brazil, John Calvert-Toulmin, who had also spotted the Da Silva twins.
A month after what could have been a career ending tackle, Possebon was playing in the Reserves and scored on his comeback game against Manchester City, with his effort beating Kasper Schmeichel.
At the end of that season he was called up by the Italian U-20 side for the Four Nations Tournament, a team he qualified to play for through his father. He got an Italian passport when United had made it clear they wanted to sign him so he didn’t have to get a work permit.
“I’m very happy with the news of this selection,” he said at the time. “From the moment I got the Italian passport I knew this was what I wanted. It is even a way of saying thanks to the country that gave me the opportunity to play in Europe and in Manchester. I will grab it with both hands and give all of me. Italy was the country that has recognised my work and I do not believe in looking back.”
United won the League Cup that season, with Possebon playing in three games in total, including the 5-3 win over Blackburn in the quarter-finals, and received a medal. This would be his second and final medal at the club, having got one from the Community Shield after being named as an unused substitute before his debut against Newcastle.
The following season he joined Sporting Braga on loan but returned to United in January after making just one appearance. He was subbed off after just 34 minutes in their Europa League qualifying tie against the Swedish team Elfsborg due to his poor performance.
He rejoined the Reserves and was a part of the team that won the league. Having won the Northern Division, they beat Aston Villa on penalties to be crowned champions, with Possebon one of the players to score from the spot, alongside Ben Foster and Federico Macheda.
A few months later, he left the club permanently after signing a four year deal with Brazilian side Santos. He made 30 appearances for them over two seasons, scoring one goal, before signing for Italian club Vicenza. He then returned to Brazil and to play for Serie B side Criciuma, where he made nine appearances, before moving to Mirassol, where he didn’t play a single game for the first team. He then moved to fourth tier Brazilian team Juventude where he got seven games, before moving to Serie B side Nautico where he against made seven appearances.
Possebon then, at the age of 25, was without a club for two years, with his career looking to be over thanks to persistent injuries. But he still had hopes of playing professionally again and talked about this with Yahoo Sport.
Unfortunately in football you are never fully protected against injuries and I was on the receiving end of a bad tackle against Middlesbrough. But it could be much worse, that tackle could have broken my leg as people thought at the time — that didn’t happen, thank God. Ferguson was furious with the tackle and Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate apologised.
My United career never really got going from then and I’ve been playing overseas. For Braga in Portugal, in Brazil and in Bahrain. But I have a great desire, and ambition to come back and play in England. I still think that there is no better place to play – the level of the leagues, clubs, organisation, the structure, atmosphere and the environment are just fabulous. I like the fans, cities and the quality of life is good. So now I’m back, looking for a club.
He then he joined non-league Brazilian side URT, in a bid to restart his career, but went on to make just a few appearances in cup competitions. He then signed for Passo Fundo where he played in eight games but they were relegated and he was released.
In January 2018, he was offered a lifeline by Vietnamese side Ho Chí Minh City, but the following month, before the season had even started, the 29-year-old was let go. He hasn’t played for a club since.
Earlier this year, he discussed with PL Brasil the early days in his career, when he made the move to United and how readily Ferguson welcomed him in.
A scout who worked for Manchester United, who worked in Brazil and Latin America, took me there. When you arrive at the club you have the staff responsible for taking care of the transition off the field, so it was very easy.
It was a great experience, no doubt. He [Ferguson] is one of the greatest coaches in football history, he was a guy very close to everyone. Manchester is a club that is very professional, so he treated everybody the same. Everyone knows what he has achieved, the things he has done in football an in Manchester.
I continue to follow the Premier League, especially Manchester United. I have friends in England, I have this special feeling for the club, I am very keen and I am always watching what is going on there.
What a sad end to a career that showed great promise. But he will always be remembered fondly by United fans.