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Da Silva Lining: Rafael and Fabio

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2.61K   //    23 Jul 2011, 00:49 IST

There is nothing more touching in sport, than to see two brothers rise up the ranks together, and eventually reach stardom. The Schumachers (F1), The Waughs (Cricket) and The Nevilles (Man Utd) are prime examples of this. The sight of Gary and Phil bombing down either flank, overlapping the wingers will forever be etched in the memories of Manchester United fans.

United supporters must have been disappointed midway through last season when Gary retired from football. And with Phil already having moved clubs to Everton, the era of sibling fullbacks was gone; or was it? In 2007, Sir Alex had already made contingency plans for such a day, possibly to continue the legacy of sibling fullbacks at Manchester United. He signed Rafael and Fabio da Silva, the twin teenagers from Fluminense. What must have really pleased Sir Alex before these two had even played a game for United was that two of his old adversaries would have to endure watching the twin teenagers he signed from under their noses play together for a rival club. The twins revealed that Arsène Wenger wanted to have them at Arsenal and Real Madrid also tried to lure them to the Bernabeu, having watched them excel for the Brazil Under-17 side, captained by Rafael. Manchester United had landed their very own Waugh brothers, or as they’re fondly known in the red half of Manchester, The Brazilian Nevilles.

Tired and bored: Kid twins

  • Climbing up the ladder

Fábio and Rafael were born in Petrópolis, a small town near Rio de Janeiro (Fabio was born 10 minutes before Rafael) and began playing football from the age of five. They would play five-a-side in the city, where they would regularly torment the local kids with their skills. Soon, they were spotted by a representative of Fluminense, who gave them the opportunity to play for the club and they went to live at the club’s training center at Xerém when they were just 11 years old.

The Flu-kalikes

Surprisingly, neither of them began their careers as a fullback. Rafael’s preference for the right side of the pitch had more to do with escaping the scorching heat than beating his marker. He started his career as a midfielder but as he mentioned,

“The training pitch had a shadow on the right side and I, went through there a couple of times during a game so I could escape the sun”. The manager liked it and moved me to right-back”.

Fábio’s journey to the left side was more circuitous. He was originally a striker who once fed off his brother’s long balls to score goals galore in a local team in Petrópolis. At Fluminense though, he struggled to find a regular place until the first?choice left-back was dropped because of forged documentation. Fabio recalls,

“The manager put me there and I ended up enjoying it more than playing up front”.

The twins took part in the 2005 Nike Premier Cup in Tokyo, where Man United scout Les Kershaw spotted them and advised manager Sir Alex Ferguson to sign them. Manchester United got in touch with Fluminense and asked permission for the twins to travel to Manchester to train with them in 2005. Strangely, a scout claiming to represent Arsenal visited the twins and asked them to train with the club without asking Fluminense. Their mother asked them to remain loyal to Fluminense and reject Arsenal. Therefore, they decided to sign for Manchester United and the two clubs agreed a deal in February 2007. Since they hadn’t turned 18, they had to wait till 2008, when the twins moved to Manchester in January without ever having played for the Fluminense first team. They brought a big entourage from their family over from the poor Petropolis neighborhood to help them settle down. Not content with being side by side from birth, Rafael and Fabio shot to prominence together as youngsters, were both picked for Brazil’s U-17 squad and both defended their country at the 2007 edition of the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

  • What they are all about

Talking about Rafael or Fabio separately or trying to compare them would futile. Maybe one could say that Rafael is more impulsive, aggressive, thus the more reckless of the two. Fabio has been known to be level headed and his composure while taking players on or while stopping them from going past him shows.

There is a seemingly perfect symmetry about the two defensive bookends: Rafael at right-back and Fabio on the left. Fabio revealed, in an interview, that he is right-footed just like his brother and has cultivated the left foot, which prevents the two competing for the same spot. It was their manager at Fluminense who deployed Fabio at left back and Rafael on the right and it stuck. Although he is primarily right footed, Fabio is very adept with the left foot as well.

Both are dazzlingly quick and nimble footed with the ability to easily go past their man. What is most endearing about them is the way they like to link up with their teammates and with each other when on the football field. The similarities aren’t limited to footballing terms. Like most twins, their closeness stretches from their identical luggage on away trips, to consecutive squad numbers (20 and 21) and matching toothbrushes. Not to mention the curly mops and same boots that they use.

Too bad there's only one trophy

At first, it was Rafael who succeeded in gaining entrance to the senior team, competing with players like John O’Shea and Wes Brown for the right back spot. With steel and feistiness to go with a bit of Samba magic, Rafael excelled for the first team on several occasions, scoring against Wigan and Arsenal and at every opportunity whipping in delicious crosses for Rooney and co. to pounce upon. His feisty and aggressive nature was seen in the Manchester derby when he went head-to-head with Carlos Tevez. The Brazil-Argentina rivalry showed here when Rafael refused to back out of the confrontation inspite of being a teenager and much less experienced than Tevez.

Fabio, who has always been considered the more gifted and naturally talented footballer of the two, had to wait for his first- team opportunity. This was mainly down to Patrice Evra being in dazzling form and totally injury free. Also Fabio had some bad luck with calf and shoulder injuries limiting his chances. But whenever he got the chance, Fabio was up to the task. He did brilliantly whenever Evra was rested, playing as left back of an auxiliary left winger at times. He scored his first first-team goal against Wigan and followed it with another against Arsenal in the FA Cup. He played so well towards the end of last season that in Rafael’s absence he played at right back and was picked ahead of his twin in the Champions League final. One would have expected Rafael to be jealous of his brother, but he very sportingly said,

“I am happy to see my brother bouncing back after a difficult start at United. He got injured a few times and didn’t get many games in the first two seasons. There was even talk about him being loaned out. We have been together throughout our entire career and would love to keep it this way for as long as possible.”

Talk of brotherly love.

  • Life in England

The first time the twins entered the Old Trafford dressing room, they were obviously very shy and felt strange entering a room full of star players. They got to know a lot of players very soon due to their friendly nature. Also, compatriot Anderson helped them a lot in settling into the Old Trafford family. In an interview the twins revealed,

Patrice Evra and Park are always together. They’re never apart. Rio Ferdinand is a great friend of ours. He’s the biggest joker of them all. Once, Anderson came to training in his slippers and they set fire to his slippers and tipped cream out all over them”.

Well, no wonder that Rio is their best mate.

In a short span of time, they have become quite famous and their unmistakable mops and bright smiles make them recognizable from a distance. Contrary to what they’d imagined, in England, the people respect the players. Especially when they’re shopping together, the fans come up for an occasional photo or sometimes even a chat, but they’re very well behaved.

“Every player can walk around; the problem is when they think ‘ah I’m not going there because there’s going to be lots of people. No, if he’s just walking normally, no one will harass him”.

Fabio cheekily adds,

“Of course, when we’re in the stadium they harass you but not in the shopping centre”.

Increasing the English-ness

Being Brazilian youngsters, the twins haven’t really been able to adjust to the finicky English weather and climate. In spite of being at Old Trafford for 3 years now, they still miss the hot sunny beaches of Brazil, the beach volleyball and the frequent visits to people’s houses as they really haven’t got too close to too many people.

The boys are also very quiet in terms of social life. After all the traveling and rigorous training, the last thing they want to do is go out. Their family members who travelled with them to England nag them and every once in a while they might get to go to a restaurant, but most of the time they stay indoors.

  • The Differences

Yes they are twins and thus are similar in more ways than one could imagine, but there are some subtle differences which help distinguish between the boys. Fabio is the more serious and introverted of the brothers. Rafael tends to keep joking around and that mirthful nature is seen on his face too. Fabio married his girlfriend before leaving Brazil for Manchester, so that she could be with him.

The wedding was a source of amusement for Rafael but  has helped Sir Alex , who admits that Fabio’s wedding ring was the only point of differentiation between the two. Fabio’s not allowed to wear the ring on field, so spotting who’s who is a bigger headache then. Fabio revealed in another interview,

“There was a match where he (Sir Alex) came to me in the dressing room and started to tell me off, but calling me Rafael. He still gets us confused”.

So then how do you tell them apart? Rafael jokes,

“I have a few marks around my eyes so that’s the secret of telling us apart”.

Rafael: "Look under my eyes"

Trying to differentiate between them hasn’t been a headache only for the manager. Chris Foy certainly didn’t know the secret when in October 2009 in a Carling Cup match at Barnsley, he flashed a yellow card at Fabio for a foul committed by Rafael! United appealed and the card was rescinded due to mistaken identity. One can expect more of this the more they play together.

  • Chants and songs

One usually associates chants with a football club or with a player who has accomplished a great deal and is a legend at his current club. The twins seem to have changed this notion and have a few chants dedicated to them.

Viva Da Silva
Viva Da Silva
Running down the pitch
Can’t tell which is which
Viva Da Silva

And its hi – ho DA SILVA LINING
and away they go now baby,
They come from brazil where the sun is shining
But We wont make a fuss
Though its obvious.

  • Future national and club duties

Though Rafael has benefited directly from the denouement of Gary Neville’s glittering career on the right of Manchester United’s back four, winning a spot in the senior Brazil side is another matter. Barring his way are the last two players to claim the right-back spot in the FIFPro World XI: Barcelona’s Daniel Alves and Inter Milan’s Maicon. Rafael has been made aware of these two stars being ahead of him in the Brazilian pecking order but he’s quite confident about making the cut,

“Everyone is always saying that to me, and the worst thing is it’s true! Those guys are monsters. But what can I do? I just need to keep playing my football for Manchester United and who knows; maybe I’ll be able to overtake at least one of those two.”

Something that not too many know about is that the twins are eligible to play for Brazil as well as Portugal (their grandfather being Portuguese). Carlos Queiroz, the former Portugal manager was very keen to tie them up into the Portuguese national set-up. This is something that the twins have contrasting views about.

According to Rafael, the boys want to play for Brazil, but if that doesn’t happen then Rafael for one could well play for Portugal. He adds,

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with players who play for Portugal, as long as they don’t forget where they were born and their culture.”

Fabio though, is less convinced about a Portuguese affair even if the opportunity presents itself. When asked if he would forgo a chance to represent Brazil, he said,

“It’s my dream to play for Brazil.”

The priorities are clear: Fabio and Rafael

Rafael had virtually made the right back position his own before falling to injury last season. That was when Fabio stepped in and hasn’t looked back since. Come next season, Rafael will have the Right back position, almost unchallenged (well Fabio will be there) and if Patrice Evra doesn’t raise his game to the level we know he can, expect Fabio to be snapping at his heels for that left fullback position.

We have seen the twins start together for United on very rare occasions, the most notable being the FA Cup win over Arsenal where Arsenal were too confused trying to tell who’s who rather than concentrating on the game. That match proved to be a little ‘taster’ of what one could expect. This transfer window has seen Wes Brown and John O’shea departing for Sunderland, signaling ‘out with the old’ and ‘in with the new’ at Old Trafford. Rafael and Fabio were being preened for next season and if their performances from last season are anything to go by, the two Brazilian brothers are likely to spend even more time on the pitch together next season and the prospect is mouth watering to say the least.

Confident, reckless, irresponsible, cocky, eccentric, self obsessed, bordering on narcissism. Need i say more??
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