As a frequent Twitter user, there are many habits I have picked up during my time on there. Some of these include casually, and very rudely tweeting when my mates are trying to have a civilized conversation with me, as well as frequently committing spelling atrocities due to my imprisonment of being forced to use only 140 characters to express my emotions or thoughts on there.
However, one of the few unexpected habits I have picked up during my hours of brainless surfing on Twitter is taking part in what tweeters refer to as the ‘RafaelSweepstakes’. This is a phenomenon where the tweeter would attempt to try and guess just how long our very own Rafael Da Silva will last on the pitch after being picked in the starting lineup, whether it be do to him picking up another sending off due to a careless challenge, something he’s frequently and unfairly accused of committing, or more likely, an injury.
For the record, Rafael has only ever been sent off the two times in 44 appearances for Manchester United, each time for a double booking, which may be a safe indication that he his label of being a ‘dirty’ player is wrong and unfair. Having never been sent off for a direct red card, it would be harsh to say his tackling is malicious or dangerous, with most of his bookings coming from lapses in concentration or poor reading of the game. Anybody who watches Rafael will know that he’s a very committed and energetic young player, something which often results in him putting in adrenalin-based rash challenges which have lead to 7 yellow cards to his name in a United shirt. Such bookings are a common occurrence with young fullbacks who are not experienced enough to read the game as well as other more experienced counterparts would, with many of those bookings coming from ‘professional fouls’ due to poor positioning on the pitch.
On the other hand, the claims that Rafael is likely to pick up an injury during the game seem much more justified, with him only playing 4 games in the current Premier League campaign, which is the equivalent of him only featuring in 25% of the games he did in 08/09 and 10/11 seasons, when he was arguably our main right back.
Instead, his United career has seemed to be hampered by frequent injuries which have restricted his development and lead to Sir Alex playing various other players at right back to make up for the Brazilians absence. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been used as fullbacks, rather than their much preferred centre back roles, with even Antonio Valencia having to drop deep from his more regular attacking position.
With so many players being taken away from their familiar roles and being deployed as cover for Rafael, Sir Alex has been left short of cover for when the injury lists have picked up pace. More worryingly however is what the team loses when those players are taken out of their normal role, especially in the case of Phil Jones who is also been often been deployed as central midfielder when needed, with his both his energy with the ball and his tactical play frequently giving the opposition much to deal with.
Thus, we begin to see just how important Rafael Da Silva is to Manchester United. His recent performances against Liverpool and Chelsea have been of a high quality, which played as a reminder as to why Sir Alex and many others see him as our long term right back, something we have not had since the absence of former United captain Gary Neville.
Hopefully, once the youngster can get himself a good run of games without picking up any niggles along the way, his confidence can pick up and he can show us once again why we had so much promise in him after his first season at the club. Again, this does depend on whether or not he can keep himself fit, but if he does, not only will we benefit from him putting in his usual quality shifts for us, but it would also mean we can continue to play Jones which may prevent us from being over dependant on the ageless Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes as our central midfielders, as well as having Chris Smalling as cover for Evans and Rio, should one of them get injured or suspended. This may prove vital in the title run-in as we’ve resorted to playing both Carrick, Evra and, oddly enough, our £30 million striker Dimitar Berbatov as make shift centre backs at some point throughout this season, something which may result in us being punished painfully should we be forced to do so again against stronger opposition.
Having said all this, it is obvious that this same importance of playing the correct player in the correct position can be applied to any player at any club, but here the circumstances are slightly different when you consider the lack of available players to the central midfield area due to the sale of Darron Gibson and the clubs continuous struggle to sign a world class player. Add that to our ever-growing injury list in the defense, and all of a sudden, the collective impact a fit and ready Rafael Da Silva on the team may end up being the difference between us securing a record 20th Premier League title and ending up as Europa League champions, or us painfully finishing the season off trophyless and runners up behind our city rivals.
With all that said and done, lets just hope the Stretford End will be singing ‘Viva Da Silva’ over and over again this season, and for many more to come.