On Sunday night’s Match of the Day 2 a man previously mooted as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor spoke candidly on his admiration for what he believes is the makings of Ferguson’s next and possibly final great side. Despite Everton defending resolutely for 83 minutes against Manchester United at the weekend, David Moyes admitted that the Reds were far superior to the rejuvenated Merseysiders, and that despite the criticism United’s squad has received this year this could be the start of something special for United.
United’s current crop of players may not be collectively the most talented side Sir Alex has ever had at his disposal but it is not talentless. United’s current league and European standings are evident of this. However, United is a team in transition, this isn’t a side that could challenge for honours at home and abroad for years to come; not as it is anyway. With players such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wes Brown edging towards the end of their wonderful careers now is the time for a new generation of ‘Fergie Fledglings’ to make themselves known.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández has been a sensation but there are others who will also be charged with keeping the silverware conveyor belt running during the final years of Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford and then post-retirement
Similar to Chicharito, the Da Silva twins arrived on the scene as complete unknown quantities. In their pre-season début against Peterborough United at London Road in 2008, Rafael played the full 90 while Fabio came on for the second half. There was an immediate WOW factor about these two Brazilian twins, who demonstrated pace, power and an unquenchable thirst for the game. This was a friendly and not the Champions League final but first impressions are always important.
Rafael in particular took the ‘bull by the horns’ and in his first season made a total of 21 starts – no bedding in period just straight in at the deep end, the United way. Rafael also showcased his ability as an all-round footballer, scoring a terrific volley against Arsenal at the Emirates and a several assists to boot.
Fabio’s progression has proved to be less rapid, making only one start in his début season, with a second season hampered by injury. However this season Fabio has come into his own and against Everton was one of United’s best players – solid at the back and a threat going forward. Albeit Everton’s attacks were sporadic but when the game began to open up in the second half Fabio dealt superbly with Tim Cahill, Leighton Baines and Victor Anichebe. The Brazilian resisted temptation to dive into challenges, which his brother is often guilty of and did not get flustered in pressing conditions.
In 2008 when Rafael began to break into the first team the word from inside Carrington was that Brazilian scouts rated Fabio above Rafael. However, Fabio’s first forays into first team football could not justify the tag, although his talent was evident. Perhaps Rafael had taken to the demands and pace of English football better than Fabio; maybe fans would have seen Fabio in a better light in other circumstances. Meanwhile, Rafael was already battling for a position which was well and truly up for grabs with Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Gary Neville suffering with injury. Fabio, however, had the not-so-easy task of deposing the ever-present Patrice Evra.
Credit is due to Fabio though as he has never let his head drop despite limited opportunities and this season he has been rewarded. Keen reserves watchers will have noted that when Fabio plays he is often deployed in an attacking position and not at right or left-back. Clearly, Sir Alex has recognised the problem posed by Evra and wants to experiment with Fabio’s ability to play elsewhere on the park.
The da Da Silva’s are both fantastic all round players too – at United the chances of becoming a first team main-stay are greatly enhanced with versatility. In this season’s FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal at Old Trafford Ferguson started the twins on the wings, their attacking prowess was again noted with Fabio notching his second goal of the season. The duo caused endless problems for Bacary Sagna and would have given Fergie a big boost in that he can now utilise their talent all over the pitch.
Ferguson surely sees Rafael as United’s long-term right-back, with Neville gone, Brown likely to follow suit in the summer and O’Shea entering his thirties. However, Fabio’s future remains unclear, despite great form and impressive displays. With Evra signing a new long term deal this season, Fabio’s role is unlikely to be a left-back for the time being, unless the Brazilian can unseat his more experienced colleague.
For those United supporters who watched BBC’s ‘United’ on Sunday night Duncan Edwards supposedly told Bobby Charlton that he wasn’t “given my place in the team” he “stole it”. Whether or not Edwards said this, it is not hard to imagine the attitude; it has been the same for many United greats since. Fabio seems to own a hunger akin to Edwards’ that will serve him very well.
Certainly, using Fabio as a reserve full-back is a waste of his talent. Perhaps then we will see Fabio deployed in a more advanced position more regularly next season as the manager attempts to mould the Brazilian into a solid attacking outlet that can fill in at left or right-back when needed.
With a 19th title on the horizon it is wise to take a second before criticising this current squad. After all, a team in transition has made the European Cup semi-final and is six points clear in the domestic league with four to play. In the last transitional phase United won two trophies between 2004 and 2007, none of which were the league title.
Despite turbulent times on and off the pitch Chicharito, the Da Silva’s, together with Nani and Valencia staking their claim, the future could be brighter than you think.