Experience is often underrated in football, but do not misjudge the influence of time on Rafael’s burgeoning Manchester United career.
Unbelievably, the Brazilian’s Old Trafford future was once questioned following a couple of high-profile errors. But today, in the midst of a largely impeccable season, the elder Da Silva twin (by a few minutes) is answering his critics in typically flamboyant fashion.
Throughout an excellent campaign, Rafa has made the right-back berth his own, adding maturity to potential and, most recently, helping the Reds seal a deserved 2-0 win over QPR at Loftus Road with a performance of great style, substance and verve.
As well as earning ManUtd.com’s Man of the Match award – and by some distance too - he might also take home a Goal of the Season award, having smashed in a 25-yard thunderbolt that would make next Tuesday's wing opponent Cristiano Ronaldo proud.
Aside from the obvious quality, the most impressive aspect of Rafa’s effort was his confidence to strike a bouncing ball, particularly as Nani – clearly the safer option – was free to take a pass out wide. Nobody expected what happened; jaws hit the floor.
That self-belief has fuelled a fine term and most recently shone through at the Bernabeu, where he overcame a torrid first half to improve sufficiently after the break, snuffing out Real’s threat down the left flank to offer hope for the second leg.
Impressively, 32 appearances have been made this season, which is five more than his previous best and bettered only by the ever-present Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie, earning considerable acclaim from his team-mates and several noteworthy pundits.
Such performances have even warranted Sir Alex to compare the 22-year-old to bona fide United legend Gary Neville, who famously made over 600 appearances during a distinguished and trophy laden 19-season career at the Theatre of