United legend Gary Neville, who famously made over 600 appearances during a distinguished and trophy laden 19-season career at the Theatre of Dreams.
Earlier this season, when asked if his current prodigy could replicate Neville's success, Sir Alex was clear in his assessment: "It did take time for Gary in terms of his use of the ball and crossing but all these things developed because he wanted to work on them. Rafael is definitely the more naturally talented."
Of course, part of Rafael’s ascendancy can be attributed to his new-found consistency, while a wing partnership with Ecuadorian powerhouse Antonio Valencia has, at times, bred an understanding that is reminiscent of Neville and David Beckham in their primes.
"My friendship with Antonio Valencia is good," Rafa recently explained. "He plays well in every position and it's good to watch him and learn something that you're not doing. Being the number one right-back at this club is important to me."
Two attributes that have also underpinned his growth are patience and maturity. As we all know, football can be a fickle business at the best of times and the modern fan, armed by social networking, is often too judgmental and quick to dismiss a young player.
In 2010, under the Old Trafford floodlights, the Petrópolis-born star was lambasted following a now-infamous dismissal as United exited the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich via the away goals rule. Notably, he was just 19 years old at the time.
A season later, he was sent off again for a second bookable offence during a Premier League stalemate with Tottenham at White Hart Lane. This time, he was 20 and grumbles regarding his quality and temperament continued to sound.
Questions were rightly asked, but in the cold light of day, a young defender’s willingness to