As the end of season awards and reviews begin to pile in, one particular issue has began to gripe no end – the continual grouping of Man Utd’s twin full-backs Rafael and Fabio under the ‘well they’re twins so they must be the same player’ banner. In reality, the subtle differences in each defenders games mean that they could turn into very different players from one another in the future.
You could be forgiven for not really knowing the difference between Rafael and his twin brother Fabio Da Silva – indeed, in a Carling Cup tie against Barnsley last season, referee Chris Foy even proceeded to book Fabio, despite it being Rafael that had committed the offence in question on Barnsley winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce.
Signed together from Brazilian club Fluminense in January 2008, the pair were initially and now rather laughably likened to a the ‘Brazilian Neville brothers’ – laughable not because the Neville brother were bad of course, but because that has to be the first time that phrase has ever been used in all seriousness.
Rafael has found first-team action easier to come by since the switch, yet back home in Brazil it was Fabio, the captain of the Brazil under-17 World Cup side back in 2007 that was held in higher esteem. By virtue of their natural position, Rafael has been granted more first-team opportunities in the right back slot with no one able to make the position their own at Old Trafford over the last 18 months, whereas Fabio has had to contend with Patrice Evra at left back, one of the best in his position in world football.
Fabio has made a breakthrough of late and now appears to have leapfrogged Rafael in the pecking order and looks the favourite between the two brothers to start the Champions League final against Barcelona after making the right back slot his own in recent weeks.
Yet there are differences between the two defenders and to casually lump them together as readily as everyone else seems content to do to is irritating to say the least. They were brought over to Utd at such a young age simply because they would not get the defensive education that they so required in their native Brazil and their progress at Old Trafford has been excellent.
The role of the full-back has changed exponentially over the last decade or so, but still, there are remnants of a bygone era, whereby a full-backs role is simply to offer an outlet of attack and this is non-best typified than in South American football.
Fabio remains the more attacking of the duo, hence the gradual bedding in since his arrival in comparison to Rafael, as his more natural game needed reigning in to an extent, whereas Rafael‘s seemed more ready for top flight football. Fabio also seems less wasteful on the ball and in possession of a better temperament.
Rafael on the other hand looks the better defender. Positionally there is still a lot of work to do and while not as composed as Fabio on the ball and developing an unwanted reputation for rash challenges, his feistier attitude and combativeness will stand him in good stead in the future and he looks more solid when questions have been asked of him.
While they are not chalk and cheese, there are already subtle differences developing in each players game and to label them as one and the same seems a tad lazy and dare I say it, ignorant of the players on show’s talents.
It’s like comparing Maicon and Daniel Alves, the two best right backs in the world at the moment. Both obviously have their strengths going forward, but Maicon is unquestionably the better defender (Bale shockers apart) and Alves the better attacker. One is a monster, the other more technical – as time goes on and they continue to develop, people may begin to notice more of a difference between the Da Silva twins simply beyond their first names.