Istanbul Basaksehir v Man Utd: Why Rafael da Silva is an Old Trafford cult hero


Rafael and Fabio da Silva
Rafael (left) won three Premier League titles with Manchester United

When the draw for this season’s Champion League group stage was made, Istanbul Basaksehir’s Rafael da Silva said “dreams can come true” as he fulfilled a wish of facing former side Manchester United.

United have started their European campaign in perfect fashion, winning both of their games, and have the first of back-to-back fixtures against Rafael’s new team on Wednesday (20:00 GMT kick-off), with the Turkish champions bottom of Group H and without a point.

Despite being sold to Lyon five years ago, why does the affable Brazilian remain a cult hero for Red Devils supporters?

‘Fearless and infectious’

Spotted for their talents during an international youth team tournament, Rafael and twin brother Fabio joined United from Fluminense in January 2008, but were not eligible to play for Sir Alex Ferguson’s senior side until July of that year when they turned 18.

Having made his debut in the 2008-09 season, Rafael went on to play 170 times for United, winning three Premier League titles, one League Cup and the Club World Cup.

“He was fearless from when he first came in,” Manchester United author Wayne Barton tells BBC Sport. “They came over from Brazil and were not allowed to play, but he was so confident that he would come into a Double-winning team and do well.

“A lot of youngsters come in and tread water but you could see Rafael’s personality on the side straight away. He grabbed the opportunity – and because he was so infectious, everyone was excited.

“Both of the twins’ make-up came from growing up on the streets of Brazil and having to be competitive. Rafael was a fiery player that was instantly loved and that feeling never went away. It was part of his personality and suited the team down to the ground.”

A risk taker – why he was such a success

Rafael
Turtle Power: Basaksehir revealed new signing Rafael with an unusual video

Rafael played alongside some stellar names at United, including Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

“It wasn’t an obvious marriage but part of the love was because Sir Alex Ferguson felt alive with his team, which contained the Portuguese-speaking Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson and the twins,” says Barton, who is ghostwriting The Sunshine Kids, an autobiography of Rafael and Fabio.

“They were not coasters – they were fully committed, whole hearted. And because they were young, the crowd got behind them straight away.”

Under Ferguson, Rafael played a large portion of the 2012-13 campaign, United’s most recent Premier League title triumph, and featured regularly for his successor David Moyes.

However, he played just 10 times for Louis van Gaal after the Dutchman took charge in 2014 and was sold to Lyon, where he played for five seasons from 2015, before joining Basaksehir in the summer.

Barton adds: “Rafael was a risk-taking right-back and bombed up and down that side. He was not good being asked to concentrate just on the defensive side of his game, but he did have notable games in that aspect when coming up against athletic players like Gareth Bale.

“Under Van Gaal, he was being asked to do things which were not in his natural game. Van Gaal decided very quickly he did not want him.”

Tevez, Arsenal, Liverpool – three iconic moments

Squaring up to Tevez in 0-0 draw with Manchester City – 10 November 2010

Rafael da Silva and Carlos Tevez
Rafael faces off with ex-United team-mate Carlos Tevez

Barton: “[Carlos] Tevez had an acrimonious departure from United and there was a personality clash between the two. They didn’t get on.

“Rafael didn’t like the way Tevez conducted himself so when he got on to the pitch in this 0-0 Premier League draw, there had been a bit of a niggle and Rafael had this pent up frustration which all came out at the time.”

Speaking last year, Rafael said of the incidentexternal-link involving Argentina forward Tevez, who joined Manchester City from United in 2009: “I wouldn’t like to criticise anyone who does this, but personally, I think that when you have a certain identity with one team and then go to a rival, well, I wouldn’t do that.”

Celebrating with Fabio in FA Cup quarter-final win over Arsenal – 12 March 2011

Rafael and Fabio da Silva
Rafael and Fabio celebrate, but which is which?

Barton: “They both played together in this FA Cup quarter-final tie. Rafael and Fabio see themselves as the same person, so when Fabio scored, you saw the zenith of their happiness at United in that game.

“Nothing sums up their time at United more than the image of them celebrating together.”

Loved playing Liverpool – 23 September 2012

Rafael da Silva
Rafael clashes with Liverpool players in a defeat in March 2011

Barton: “The saying ‘size of the dog in the fight’ comes to mind. That is why fans loved him because he would not back down from that. His most iconic moment at Anfield was when he scored the goal in the title-winning season.

“He would never go missing against them. Ferguson could always count on Rafael for that.”

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