Young United right-back Rafael was given his first international call-up to the Brazil squad this week, and his elevation to the Selecao marks a fully-warranted milestone in his burgeoning career.
Brazil face USA in New Jersey next month, and Rafael is getting good practice on American soil against American opponents during United’s US tour before meeting up with his national team colleagues on 10 August. Two days later he could make his debut in the famous yellow jersey.
New Brazil coach Mano Menezes, who replaced Dunga after his side’s failed World Cup campaign, has named just four players from the squad that went to South Africa. In doing so, he is sending out a clear message: impress me. No Kaka. No Luis Fabiano. No Julio Cesar. The only players retained are Daniel Alves, Ramires, Thiago Silva and Robinho. In come 11 potential debutants, of which Rafael is one.
I interviewed Rafael last season after he'd just faced Ronaldinho against AC Milan at the San Siro. And we spoke about what a dream it would be for him to play for his country at the next World Cup in Brazil, on home soild in front of millions of adoring fans. Not that a path into the team hasn’t been swept clear by Menezes' latest selection. Maicon was one of Brazil’s few outstanding performers in South Africa in Rafael’s position, while Daniel Alves is an accomplished full-back. Rafael has his work cut out.
Since moving to United in 2008, Rafael has shown that he has bags of potential – he’s just six games shy of 50 United appearances and he only waved goodbye to his teens on 9 July. But speak to a handful of keen United observers and one or more will no doubt use the word ‘raw’ to describe his abilities.
He isn’t scared of throwing himself into tackles, putting his body on the line for the United cause – but in doing so he sometimes induces a collective gasp at Old Trafford. One slight misjudgement and he could enter the referee's book, or worse, be given his marching orders. On that note, people might point to his red card against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last season. “That red card killed us,” Sir Alex said at the time. But he added: “Rafael was having a marvellous game and it was a tragedy for him.”