The Education of Rafael

Posted on January 21, 2011


Rafael is the 20 year old Brazilian right back who plays for Manchetser United. When he came to the club he was a typical Brazilian wingback in that his attacking game was much better than his defending but his game is becoming more balanced now.He has been at the club for more than two years and in that time he has improved in leaps and bounds and is now considered to be the first choice right back. That being said, his game still has flaws and he will have to grow out of his bad habits if he is to become an elite player.

learning quickly

Lessons Learned

Rafael is very quick and has learned to use this pace to intercept balls in front of the attacker instead of defending passively. Earlier in his United career, he seemed to not be aware of where his man was in relation to the ball but his reading of the game has improved. He also used to get sucked into midfield far too easily and end up making the back four too narrow. This would leave the left winger free to deliver crosses into the box. This is a rare occurance now and he seems to have understood that it is not his role to be a midfield ball winner.

Another huge improvement in Rafael’s game is his aerial ability. In previous seasons teams would target him aerially, in a similar way to how they used to target Patrice Evra. These days you do not see teams trying this strategy because Rafael can hold his own in the air and seems to relish the physical contact. He may be only 1.73 m tall but he leaps very well and has improved the timing of his jumps. I have no doubt that he picked up some tips from Evra, who had to deal with similar challenges. Rafael has also bulked up and does not get muscled off the ball anymore, in fact he is the one who is often too physical.

Another skill Rafael has had to pick up is playing behind a winger and knowing when to overlap. In Brazilian football he would have rarely played with wingers and had more freedom to bomb forward, not just to deliver crosses but to cut in, take on defenders and shoot at goal. He is still showcasing these skills at Man United but in a more disciplined manner. He often plays behind Nani and the two have a good understanding and support each other well.

Room For Improvement

Unfortunately Rafael has a tendency to lunge in when attempting to win the ball. This often happens after he has lost the ball or been beaten on the dribble. This shows an immaturity and a failure to keep his emotions in check. He has already been sent off twice in his young career and been guilty of a few two footed lunges that were not punished. He seems to always want to win the ball back even when it is impossible to do so. What he should do in those situations is guide the attacker into less threatening areas instead of going in for the crunching tackle. He seems to hate to get beaten by wingers and will often use any means necessary to slow them down instead of trusting his team-mates to cover for him. Hopefully he outgrows this habit as it can cost his team dearly.

His competitive spirit often leads him to argue with opposing players (and recently referees). This is dangerous for Rafael as he already has trouble controlling his emotions. As he gets older he will learn to just walk away from those situations as there is nothing to be gained by arguing.

Walk Away

Another flaw in his game is that he is often slow to get back to his right back position after he overlaps and his team lose the ball. This is inexcusable as he is one of the fastest players on his team but he seems to switch off and forget his defensive duties. This is especially dangerous when United are playing a 4-4-2 as there is no holding midfielder to cover for him. During a game you will often see Rio Ferdinand screaming at him to get back into position. Young players will have mental lapses but when you are a defender those lapses often lead to goals so he will have to learn much faster.


Even at 20, Rafael is already a good player and not out of his depth in the biggest games. Ferguson obviously trusts him and often asks him to mark dangerous players such as Robben and Bale. He has improved a lot in a short space of time and seems willing to change his game to suite his European surroundings. If he outgrows his bad habits then I see no reason why he cannot become a world class fullback, a rare thing these days.