Manchester United’s Brazilian right back Rafael has been one of the stand out performers at Old Trafford this season. While no immediate threat of him leaving, just the concerns which come at the thought of it - illustrate what a key player he has turned into for the Red Devils.
He’s completely transformed himself from a very raw and aggressive defender into someone Sir Alex Ferguson can rely on and someone he’s not afraid to use in the biggest matches.
His stats this season are very good; 20 starts, one sub appearance and two valuable goals. Respectable for any right back currently playing professional football across the world.
His discipline is okay although Ferguson would like the yellow card count, currently four in the league, to be a little lower as a one match suspension is now very close. He did excellently to reign it in against Real when he was booked early on and had a terrific second half.
There have been several stories over the last few weeks relating to David De Gea leaving the club and plenty from earlier in the season over whether Rio Ferdinand would be kept on.
However, the main reason the club must not sell Rafael for any price after May is because he’s the best, and arguably the only, right back the club own. With Barcelona said to be ready to let Dani Alves go, Rafael could be the man they turn to to replace him compatriot.
It's not just a transfer perspective they can't afford to let him go, if the Brazilian was to suffer an injury which would keep him out for weeks or months, it would be a disaster for United - so keeping him fit is essential.
United do have players who can cover the position in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. However, Ferguson seems to want to use Smalling as a straight up centre back and Jones is getting into more positions all over the pitch than the referee at the moment.
If United did lose Rafael then it’s likely Jones would be converted into an out and out right back as opposed to someone who sometimes fills in across the back four and sometimes plays a defensive role in the middle.
The point is that would take time, it would take time for someone like Jones to get used to playing a single role in the team which could have an impact on results.
Rio Ferdinand described Rafael as the best right back in the world earlier in the season and said he was amazed he wasn’t in the Brazilian national team.
As things stand, for United to lose him would have the same effect as losing any of their other most valuable and influential players.
Just how important is Rafael to United?
image: © Andrea Sartorari