Several players suffered at Manchester United following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and sadly fan favourite Rafael da Silva was one who paid the price. The right-back enjoyed a great relationship with the legendary manager and looked as though he would see out the bulk of his career at the club. But injuries and a breakdown in the relationship with Louis van Gaal cut short his United career.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Stretford Paddock, Rafael reflected on his time playing under Fergie.
I remember him telling jokes. He knew he was good but he was telling jokes and you could see he was a good man. He was such a great guy to talk to. When I played against Manchester United last season [for Istanbul Basaksehir FK] I had the opportunity to talk to him for 20 minutes, and he was still telling me jokes. What a good guy. But because we were brothers, sometimes he didn’t know which was which, so sometimes he’d call us bad words when I was like ‘I’m Fabio’ and he’d look at me and go ‘ah you’re not Fabio!’. It was funny.
An occasion which threatened his relationship with Fergie was when he got sent off in the Champions League against Bayern Munich in 2010. In front of the media, the manager was supportive of the young right-back, but Rafael reveals what it was like in the dressing room before and after the sending off.
They just said ‘be careful’. I remember everyone saying that. And I didn’t listen, I think. I wasn’t paying attention. I think I wasn’t taken off in that game because I was one of the best players on the pitch. He [Ferguson] knew I was helping but it was a stupid foul to give. You could say the referee could’ve been nicer but it was stupid. I tried to learn from this, I still sometimes do stupid tackles. Rio Ferdinand said to me ‘sometimes you need to pay with your head but I love you guys because playing with your heart is important as well.’ That game I was playing with my heart, not with my head. He [Fergie] was angry. I was in the shower and crying and he said ‘what were you thinking?’ but he saw I was so disappointed, I knew what I had done, so he just stopped. He knew I was the way I was. He took it easy on me that day. I needed to learn, because you can’t do these things, I let people down.
Towards the end of the 2012-13 season, United being champions of England with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa, Ferguson made the shock decision to retire. The news had been leaked to the papers and the players and fans were in a state of disbelief. Rafael has discussed what it was like for the squad.
It was strange. He hadn’t told anyone. It was a shock for everyone. When we heard the news, everyone was like ‘what is happening?’. The players thought that maybe he would change his mind. I was very, very sad. It had been my best season for United and I wished he would stay longer so I could play for him and win titles for five or six years. But for him, he retired in a good way, we were so many points ahead of 2nd, but it was shocking for everyone. No one told us the day we were champions, it was in the news after we won the game. I think we thought he would change his mind but at the end of the season I think a lot of players cried.
David Moyes was chosen by Fergie as the successor and was given a six-year contract. The former Everton man was out of his depth but Rafael has reflected on how hard the job was for the new manager.
It was different for everyone. It was very hard for him. We had just been champions, everyone expected him to be Alex Ferguson. But he was David Moyes, not Ferguson. Maybe his way to play football wasn’t the Manchester United way. He didn’t keep anyone from the Fergie era. Maybe he should have had Mike Phelan or someone to help him. He had Giggs and brought in Phil Neville, but Phil was a player before, not a coach, so it was different.
The final nail in Rafael’s coffin at United was the appointment of Van Gaal. With suggestions that the Dutchman didn’t like flair Brazilian players, the right-back had the feeling his days were numbered from the moment of Van Gaal’s appointment. But it was one clash between the two during a team meeting, when Rafael was distracted by a head injury that had left him with stitches, that sealed his fate.
I tried hard but the guy is crazy. I swear to you, he’s a crazy human being. It was so hard to work with him. He is crazy. The way he sees the world is different from everyone else. I’ve never worked with a guy like him. Everyone knows I don’t like him. It was painful. I don’t like to blame him for everything but it’s my opinion that I don’t like him. Not as a coach, as a coach he’s OK, he had some qualities. But as a human being he’s one of the bad ones. He’s a robot. One time I played and I got stitches in my head in the FA Cup. Two days after, when he was speaking at lunchtime, and I was holding my head. Then, suddenly, he stopped speaking and he touched me [on the shoulder], and I looked at him and he said ‘why aren’t you looking at me when I’m speaking?’. And I said ‘because I’m touching my stitches, I’m in pain.’ And he said, ‘when I speak, you look at me. Respect me.’ I said, but it went black, and I started to scream, ‘I always respect you, after everything you do, I always respect you, you can ask everyone here.’ And I think he didn’t expect that and carried on talking. That day I thought he wasn’t right, that he was crazy. He’s a robot and thinks everybody should be like a robot. But I’m like that, so maybe that’s why he didn’t like me. After this, we went to the dressing room, and everyone was laughing a little bit. Then Antonio [Valencia] came to me and said, ‘bro, you’re not going to play anymore, my friend.’ And I didn’t play after that happened. Giggs was pushing him to play me and I played some games but then I got injured and he didn’t put me in the squad anymore. He didn’t like Chicharito either. He loved the Argentinians but he didn’t like the other South American players. Of course, I’m joking, but everyone said he loved the Argentinian players, apart from Di Maria!
Rafael’s accusations have been put to Van Gaal by The Athletic and he strenuously denies them, claiming the Brazilian simply lost out on his position in the team because Valencia was a better option.
You can’t imagine a human being or coach – if he doesn’t think one Brazilian is professional – thinks the same of the rest of the population of Brazil. [Rafael] was played out of the team by Antonio Valencia. Honestly, he lost the battle with Valencia. I transformed Valencia from a right-winger to a right full-back. Valencia also played as a right full-back after my dismissal for the coach Jose Mourinho, so was my choice a bad one?