Time for a permanent separation at Old Trafford?
Footballing siblings always have a sense of novelty about them, and no more than the Neville brothers. If not due to the fact their father is named Neville Neville, then it’s their rather off-beat and dead pan relationship that I find rather humorous.
Their styles on the pitch are boring and sensible, and according to the words of Gary, there is little difference off the pitch. He recently told Sky Sports viewers that while he may be the kind of guy to limit his drinking to a couple of pints on a night out or at a party before calling it an evening, which may seem rather dull, his sibling and Everton Captain Phil would be more likely to skip the booze, have a stick of celery and then head off home again.
Now that Gary’s career as a pundit has taken off, there is certainly some room for some hilarious escapades from the two siblings, such as Gary’s awkward analysis of Phil’s theatrical dive in the Merseyside Derby earlier in the season, as well as the fact the latter regularly greets the former with the phrase “Hello Phillip” live on national television.
At Manchester United, where the two siblings made their careers, Sir Alex Ferguson has kept the brotherly theme with the Brazilian equivalent of the Neville brothers in Rafael and Fabio Da Silva, who made the move to Old Trafford from the Fluminese youth system back in 2008.
Where the Neville boys are typically English in their sensible, plain, rugged and determined manner, relying on heart and their reading of the game rather than skill, the Da Silva’s possess Latin American flair, eccentricity, pace and technique, and provide the team with more going forward than in defence.
Upon their initial arrival, and indeed even a few years into their Red Devils’ careers, the two Brazilian full-backs appeared to held in the same regard by Sir Alex Ferguson, playing limited bit part roles in the side, and it was accepted that neither were quite the finished article, although they both showed a lot of promise from their initial displays in the first team.
This season however, the twins have suffered rather contrasting fortunes amid their first year of separation, something which has never happened before according to the Manchester United right back, who’s admitted it’s been a struggle coping at times without his brother.
Fabio has spent the year loaned out to relegation battlers QPR, in a bid to get some first team experience having made just 21 Premier League starts for United so far in his career, compared to Rafael’s count of 52 at the start of the season.
In the summer, I viewed the move as an opportunity for the left-sided twin to really make a name for himself as a footballer capable of being a top-flight regular, at a club that would need his abilities as much as he needed their offer of some playing time.
But things haven’t gone so well in West London for the 22-year-old. It’s difficult to determine how much blame can be attributed to Fabio considering the difficult situation at QPR. The club have suffered from a dismal season, with an inflated player roster, changes in management, and for a large chunk of their campaign confidence was at an all time low at Loftus Road. But none the less, Fabio has had limited impact, in a season which has been broken up by injuries, something which hasn’t helped his cause.
Meanwhile, at Old Trafford, Rafael has gone from strength to strength and is now considered as United’s first choice right-back, commanding a place in the starting XI over Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. The Brazilian has put in some exceptional performances, regularly popping up in the final third and providing his team with three goals and three assists in 21 Premier League starts.
His most recent strike against QPR was a joy to behold; a long range volley from outside the box, firing into the corner of the net just below the cross bar, that left brother Fabio telling reporters: “I was pleased to see my brother score a goal like that. Naturally I wanted to celebrate. But I was sat next to the QPR president.”
The goal against Fabio’s side very much symbolises the right-back’s successful year in which he’s outshone is brother, and he’s now turning his attentions to the 2014 World Cup, desperate to make it into the Brazil squad for the tournament to be played on his home soil.
But the consequences of both Fabio’s and Rafael’s fortunes this year could soon lead to their separation becoming a permanent situation: not only due to their on-pitch performances, but also their actions behind the scenes.
Both have admitted that the season apart has been a learning curve for both, but Rafael appears to have benefited most from his brother being farmed out to a different part of the country. Earlier this season, the United defender told the press: “I think splitting from Fabio has been a good experience. At first I was sad, but I’ve come to see that it’s made me grow up a lot. I’ve had to change and be more responsible.”
There’s no doubt that Rafael has an added sense of maturity to his game. His hot-headed tackles are slowly becoming a thing of the past, although he is still no stranger to the referee’s notebook. You get the feeling that the twins could easily distract themselves from the task at hand at Carrington, and perhaps their sense of dependency needed to be quashed in order to help their careers.
It’s been a smart move on the part of Ferguson, who seems to be on par with Derren Brown when it comes to the psychology of football. But the Scottish boss may well have inadvertently sealed Fabio’s fate with a move away from Old Trafford come the end of the season.
Whereas Rafael has fitted into a generation of promising youngsters at United, whom are already donning first team slots, Fabio is becoming further and further surplus to requirements. Patrice Evra has been declining as a footballer over the past few years, and despite the Brazilian being at one time considered his apprentice and most likely successor, Fergie signed Alexander Buttner in the summer from Vitesse, who has been on the whole an impressive performer when given a place in the starting XI.
Similarly, the Scot is reportedly planning a bid for Leighton Baines in the summer, who’s been in immense form for Everton with five goals and four assists in 28 appearances. The prospect of being used in midfield also appears rather unlikely, with Ashley Young, Nani and Danny Welbeck to contend with, not to mention Ryan Giggs signing a one year contract extension last week.
The Neville brothers couldn’t last forever. Whereas Phil was moved on to pastures new, arriving at Goodison Park in 2005, which in effect has extended and enriched his career way beyond the manner predicted of him while at Old Trafford, Gary stayed put and has eventually become one of the club’s most honoured and cherished players in their recent history, despite the glitz and glamour of the majority of his team-mates.
The same process may now come into effect for the Da Silvas. There is little doubt over Fabio’s ability – he’s shown moments of brilliance in a United shirt, even if his game is still lacking consistency. But is he cut out for being a regular at one of European football’s biggest institutions? Ferguson may have to sacrifice one brother to better the other come the summer, and also for the sake of Fabio’s own career.