Rafael has been back in the news this week following his move to Lyon. He lamented the fact that Van Gaal “didn’t like” him and reflected on how Ferguson’s exit derailed what was looking like a promising future at United.
He was loved by the majority of fans, playing with a passion that was as infectious as it was rare. His incredible pride and spirit seemed to scream “Man Utd”, and that was utterly welcome 99% of the time.
As argued by Rob Smyth: “So much of modern football is sanitised and controlled that it was refreshing to see somebody who played with such loveable lunacy. He was fun and, with United becoming ever more tedious in the years since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2009, that was something precious.”
Similarly, one of our own writers worried that the “cavalier spirit that Fergie imbued in our team seems to be dissipating fast; the rock & roll football of the last two decades is being replaced by cautious pragmatism.”
Occasionally Rafael’s attitude got him into trouble and his enthusiasm backfired, but I feel the Rafael-as-liability trope has been blown way out of proportion, and the defensive criticisms were often unnecessarily harsh. For me, the biggest concern was his injury record – he was out injured for a total of 305 days during his time at United, missing 51 games. Ultimately, he became an easy scapegoat, and it’s a real shame his career never developed as it might have done at the club, but the time was maybe right for him to move on.
At just 25 – the same age Evra joined United – there’s plenty of time for Rafael to continue making a name for himself, but at United, his status as a cult hero is already sealed for good.
Let’s take a chronological look at some of the memories he left behind…
Rafael’s Best United Moments
Goal vs Arsenal (2009)
Rafael’s first senior goal was truly one to remember – a lovely left-footed volley from the edge of the area against Arsenal no less. Not bad for an 18-year-old right back signed for £2.1m.
Rafael vs Tevez (2010)
The terrier-like Tevez was once loved by United fans. That front three of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez was something else. Then the snood-wearing Judas went to City, and immediately became Old Trafford enemy number one. This was the Argentine’s second season at City, but the ill feeling was still very real. After Scholes upped the temperature of the game with a series of niggling fouls, Rafael squared up to his old teammate and showed us all “he’s got balls the size of his own head.” Tevez was the first to back away, before Rafa came back for more. Legend.
After the game, Rafael put his behaviour down to good old-fashioned South American rivalry, but added “it’s up to every footballer to defend his club 100 per cent.” If every current United player felt that as strongly as Rafael, we’d be a formidable force indeed.
Rafa Puts Bale on His Arse (2010)
We’d all love Bale at United. In a recent poll of ours, 51% of you said Bale was the man to bring the X factor back to United, compared to 29% for Pedro and 16% for Kane. It probably won’t happen, so why not take some consolation from watching Rafael making Bale v1.0 fall over back in his Tottenham left-back days.
Vigilante Justice vs Liverpool’s Lucas (2011)
In a hot-blooded encounter against Liverpool, Rafael took it upon himself to retaliate after a shocking challenge by Carragher on Nani that admittedly led to some cringeworthy play-acting from our then number 17 but should definitely have resulted in a red for Carragher. Once play had eventually resumed, it was time for Da Silva to serve up his own brand of on-pitch punishment, with Lucas Leiva the recipient of Rafa’s wrath. High, late, two-footed… FIGHT! Brilliantly, this was also only a yellow – gotta love the Premier League.
Goal vs Liverpool (2012)
Rafael’s performances against Liverpool – our biggest rival – were key to his reputation as a true Red. He scored a stunning curled equaliser against the Scousers in 2012, once again with his left, in a game United went on to win 2-1. This was the second of three goals for Rafa in Fergie’s final year and United’s last season as champions.
Thanks for the memories Rafa, and good luck in France. If fate brings you back to Old Trafford some time, we’ll give you the reception you deserve.