Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rafael red card highlights his growing value to Manchester United

Rafael red card highlights his growing value to Manchester United

It is the clearest indication yet of Rafael da Silva’s rapid progress at Manchester United this season that the Brazilian defender’s dismissal against Tottenham on Sunday is being viewed as a major blow inside Old Trafford.

The 20-year-old already faces a one-match ban for his sending off for two yellow cards, but the improper conduct charge which followed on Monday, for his reaction to referee Mike Dean’s decision, could see that ban extended to two games, ruling him out of the Premier League clashes with Birmingham and Blackpool.

Last season, nobody would have batted an eyelid at the prospect of Rafael being sidelined due to suspension.

Now, however, his absence will unquestionably be felt by a United team in which Rafael is quickly becoming an integral figure.

Just nine months ago, Rafael received his first red card in a United shirt when he was sent off for tripping Franck Ribery during the Champions League quarter-final exit against Bayern Munich.

On that occasion, it proved a costly sending off for United, and one which prompted a scornful Sir Alex Ferguson to rail against Louis van Gaal’s ‘Typical Germans,’ as Bayern took advantage of the extra man to progress to the semi-finals.

At that stage of his young career, the then-19 year old Rafael was regarded as rash, impetuous and good at just one thing — diving into tackles.

His inexperience was encapsulated by his performance and dismissal against Bayern and many questioned whether the much-hyped teenager was really capable of living up to the talk.

Ferguson and United’s coaches kept faith with Rafael, though, and his elevation to the selecao, Brazil’s national squad, by new coach Mano Menezes for last August’s friendly against the USA, suggested that others were beginning to take notice of the identical twin from Petropolis.

Signed with his brother Fabio, a promising left-back, from Fluminense in Feb 2007, Rafael has now made 63 first-team appearances since making his debut against Newcastle in Aug 2008.

Nineteen of those appearances have come this season, with Ferguson identifying the youngster as the long-term successor to Gary Neville at right-back.

Rafael’s athleticism, adventure and blossoming partnership with Nani has been a feature of United’s campaign so far and why Ferguson has chosen to instil his faith in him.

Against Spurs at the weekend, Rafael overcame a nervy start to check the threat of Gareth Bale down Tottenham’s left. In the fixture between the two teams at Old Trafford in October, Rafael virtually nullified a player who has emerged as one of Europe’s most potent attacking forces this season.

Which is why is loss will be so keenly felt by United, even if it is only for the one game against Birmingham on Saturday.

Beyond Rafael, United’s options at right-back are threadbare.

Neville’s performances at Stoke and West Brom, when he could, and probably should, have been sent off in both games, only served to highlight the curtain falling rapidly on his illustrious career.

Wes Brown has been cast into the wilderness by Ferguson, unused since the Carling Cup defeat at West Ham in November, while John O’Shea, only just fit following a calf injury, has never been more than a stop-gap at right-back.

Rafael is United’s future in that position and he is already beginning to become indispensable.