The fight for right back



The 2006-2007 season saw Manchester United regain the Premier League title for the first time in four years. It also marked Gary Neville’s most recent appearance in the PFA team of the year. Near the end of the campaign Neville suffered a long-term injury, which kept him out of consistent first team action for nearly 18 months.

Since then United has yet to settle on a starting right back, with four men competing for the spot – a problem Sir Alex Ferguson is yet to resolve.

During the following Premier and Champions League double winning season Wes Brown took a hold of the position, with 52 appearances in all competitions. Throughout the season the Longsight-born defender was solid and even popped up with some major contributions going forward in the form of a goal against Liverpool and an assist in the Champions League final against Chelsea.

After getting off to a decent start in the 2008-2009 Brown was hit by another major injury, just as Neville returned from his layoff, allowing teenager Rafael Da Silva to make the first team. Despite the return of United’s captain and the Brazilian phenomenon’s rise to prominence it was in fact John O’Shea who laid claim to the slot, starting most of United’s big games in the position that season.

Last season saw a plethora of injuries to the United backline and everyone from Ritchie De Laet to Darren Fletcher got a chance in the right back role. Now as the Red Devils kick off a new campaign the right back question is still unresolved, with few clues about who will start against Newcastle United on August 16th.

Many supporters are campaigning for youth, with Rafael promoted as the man most likely to make the role his own. Sir Alex has shown lots of confidence in Rafael in the past, starting the 20-year-old in big games, most notably the second leg against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarter final. Rafael was infamously sent off that night, an event that led to the Germans winning the tie.

But Rafael’s promise showed in how well the player performed in direct competition against Franc Ribéry before the red card, getting forward regularly and keeping the lively French midfielder quiet for the most part.

The criticism of Rafael is his defensive naïvety. The Brazilian sometimes gets caught too high up the pitch and is forced into making poor decisions like the one against Munich and earlier in the season when he conceded a penalty against Manchester City. But Rafael has improved in the tackle over the past year and if there is still a major question mark defensively then the youngster is undoubtedly United’s best right back moving forward.

O’Shea represents the cautious option, with little pace and a tendency towards the lethargic in possession. Defensively Ferguson will have very few concerns though. The Irishman proved himself in the position throughout the 08-09 season and despite a slow start during the early part of his United career, O’Shea has become a fans’ favourite as a result of his work ethic and acceptance to play any role required.

Brown, however, showed himself a liability at centre back last season, and when he did get a chance at right back the brilliance demonstrated in United’s double winning season had disappeared. Brown is another player who Ferguson is delighted to have in the squad because of his versatility. It will still be a surprise to see the 30-year-old start at right back considering it has been more than two years since the role was his.

Then there is club captain Neville, who is likely playing in his last season with United. His playing time will probably reflect that fact. Neville is a good influence on the younger players at the club but the frequency with which the 35-year-old is skinned by mediocre left wingers is worrying. The ultimate pro may just have to accept a bit part role with United this coming season.

In the end the right back position will probably be fought over by O’Shea and Rafael, barring any injuries. While the romantic choice is the Brazilian, the most likely outcome is that he will share the role with O’Shea based on the opponent, with Neville providing cover against weaker opposition.

Share Button
  • sukhy5

    Great read Sam.

    For me, we must let Rafael and Wes battle it out for the RB slot.

    I’ll be happy with that. Spending big money on one would not make sense.

  • Zi Indefatigable

    Is Fergie making JOS an anchorman this season??

    Looks like it.

  • redevil_83

    i won’t call this a ‘coming of age season’ for rafa. i think he still has some work to do on the defensive front – most notably timing his challenges and keeping calm in moments when tension is high. but he needs to start – the experience gained will be invaluable and he can only learn by playing games. playing safe – such as away european ties – might merit john ‘o shea at RB i agree with that but rafa should be 1st choice RB imo

  • gazno77

    Hargreaves? Oh…

    There are obvious downsides with all of them:

    O’Shea – solid tackler, but turning circle of an oil-tanker
    Brown – decent crosser, poor concentration
    Rafa – fast & hungry, but inexperienced
    Neville – experienced, but has teenage mustache

    Decisions, decisions…

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    shit article, oshea isnt a fans favourite, hes not a solid defender hes a liability, and he didnt have a slow start to his utd career he was brilliant at the start and looked a future captain and utd great but gets worse every year

    • http://canadianstretty.com/ Sam Gregory

      O’Shea’s been a a fan’s favourite ever since the season he played keeper and scored in front of the kop in the 90th minute.

      At the start of his United career he often played in the centre of midfield and looked out of his depth at times. Since converting to almost a full time defender he has proved himself to be solid defensively, especially during the 08-09 season which was clearly his best at the club.

  • Pikey McScum

    A future captain? By that rationale, Anderson looked a future captain…

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/jaff/ Liam

    I disagree. O’Shea as was noted was very good in the 08/09 season. An unfortunate injury last year halted him from further improving in the right back position which he had made his own. Whilst not being the quickest he was able to stop even the speediest of left wingers with his great positional sense and near perfect timing of tackles.

    If you could combine the defensive capabilities of O’Shea with the speed and forward thinking attributes of Rafael you’d have one hell of a right back.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    future captain, he was fucking brilliant in his first year 02/03 at lef back when wewon the league and he nutmegged figo and looked like he had the lot. everyone thought hed end up at centre back and become the next buchan, now he can run pass or control the football. and hes only a good right back in the sense theres not much space on the wing and hes really fat

    he was crap n 08/09, embarrassing to see evra and ron on one wing and him and park on the other

  • Ian

    No contest. Rafael is the only choice.
    we need to be playing a 4-2-3-1 formation imo. jos can cover at rb or possibly in a holding mf role. wes can cover rb or cb. che nev can cover for saf & phelan on post match interview duties

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    he didnt play once in midfield until the 05/06 season alongside giggs, his fourth season

    sam you dont have a fucking clue, theres no value in you posting

    • http://canadianstretty.com/ Sam Gregory

      Thanks :)

      But your still wrong about O’Shea. During the 02-03 season he played in central midfield on several occasions, it was only the next season where he stopped playing in central midfield because of Rio’s suspension. It was 04/05 IIRC that he started to play in the centre of midfield with Giggsy again.

      As for him being shit in 08-09. Give me a break. The guy started 11 games in our 14 game clean sheet run. Sure he was never brilliant going forward that season, but he was a key part of the best defense in the league, and arguably the best defense in Europe at times.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    not only are your opinions completely wrong, but you seem to have no knowledge or recollection of things that happened just a few years ago, and to make it worse you never even gave me the standard rant response of calling me a cunt for saying you dont have a clue, this is spike esqe stuff, kudos

    • http://canadianstretty.com/ Sam Gregory

      My last reply. But this is straight from O’Shea’s profile on the United website:

      In 2004/05 he played in all those positions, and in the following season he began to establish himself in the holding role in midfield – forming an unlikely but extremely effective partnership with Ryan Giggs that was the basis of United’s late-season surge.

  • captainhormone

    tbf Sam, shite article, fight for right back…ffs…i’m confident i could have them all

  • captainhormone

    oh and Knobby, you are a cunt..at least the misguided cunt has made a fucking effort …..ffs

  • Just1n

    The fact that players like JOS , Neville and Brown are in line for RB shows how shit our squad has become.

  • Bill

    On the last comment, you name right backs in the premier league that are clearly better than those 3. Ivanovic, Johnson and the last one is debatable! You are clearly from the type first think later school of analysis.

  • Just1n

    Unregistered User said:
    On the last comment, you name right backs in the premier league that are clearly better than those 3. Ivanovic, Johnson and the last one is debatable! You are clearly from the type first think later school of analysis.

    Allan Hutton , Jose’ Bosingwa , Johnny Heitinga , Bacary Sagna , Jerome Boateng , Pablo Zabaleta are all better than those 3 and Phil Neville can be better on his day. We have world class players in the other defensive positions but have shit at RB. Time to give Raphael the jersey and make the position his own. Lord knows G Neville used to make plenty mistakes in his day but he always played.

    Looking at players like Maicon , Lahm , Ramos , Alves who ply there trade in the foreign leagues and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what we are missing but you will need to take off the red tinted spectacles.

  • kramer

    o’shea shouldn’t play at right back unless rafael, de laet and wes brown are all injured.
    gary neville should retire.

    o’shea is solid in defence, but whenever he plays right/left back, all our attacking play down his wing stops. he can’t get up to support the winger because he’s too fucking slow.

    still, watch fergie start him in all the big games behind valencia.

  • Gabagool

    Gaz – love it, made I larf

    JOS is a liability, my heart drops when I see him starting a game. Carling Cup only please.

  • Bill

    Allan Hutton , Jose’ Bosingwa , Johnny Heitinga , Bacary Sagna , Jerome Boateng , Pablo Zabaleta

    Are you sure!

  • Just1n

    Unregistered User said:
    Allan Hutton , Jose’ Bosingwa , Johnny Heitinga , Bacary Sagna , Jerome Boateng , Pablo Zabaleta

    Are you sure!

    about what?

  • brianofnazareth

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    theres no value in you posting

    As opposed to your great input!

  • Pikey McScum

    Wasn’t O’Shea statistically the deadliest striker in the Premier League a few seasons ago? It was that year he scored the late winner against the Scum at Scumfield

    I know, I know – it was to do with his shots to goals ratio, but still…

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/jaff/ Liam

    Bill says:
    August 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm
    Allan Hutton , Jose’ Bosingwa , Johnny Heitinga , Bacary Sagna , Jerome Boateng , Pablo Zabaleta

    Are you sure!

    Of those three only Sagna could be argued to be better than O’Shea. The rest are surely only mentioned as attempts at humour.

  • Just1n

    Whats this love in for JOS.

    Seriously

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    I like him as a squad player… fairly useful and versatile… but there’s a worry that we’re going to use him a lot this year, cause we’re too fuckin poor to upgrade the first 11.

  • Just1n

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I like him as a squad player… fairly useful and versatile… but there’s a worry that we’re going to use him a lot this year, cause we’re too fuckin poor to upgrade the first 11.

    Yeah agreed. He is a descent squad player. Nothing more. He should not be a first choice right back. That position should go to Raphael. He will make mistakes but he is young enough to learn and improve.

    People on here who even think that only 2-3 other players who ply their trade as right backs in the premiership are MAYBE better than JOS need to gain a firm grasp on reality.

  • Bill

    Its Rafael, Raphael was a Ninja Turtle.

    Wes Brown is probably the best of the 4.

  • Just1n

    Unregistered User said:
    Its Rafael, Raphael was a Ninja Turtle.

    Wes Brown is probably the best of the 4.

    I thought he was a painter…

  • vannailyrooy

    Bloody hell, if JOS is to become our no. 1 RB above Rafael we may as well give up now. He’s a decent chap to have in the squad, to plug any holes when necessary, but no more than that. I also remember him in his first season playing LB, he looked the bollocks. Then he started eating all the pies.

    • http://canadianstretty.com/ Sam Gregory

      Yeah! All we did with O’Shea at right back was win the league, make the Champions League final and go on a 14 game clean sheet run.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/jaff/ Liam

    Exactly Sam. Football fans are a fickle bunch. He’s been injured for a sustained period and now all the good performances he put in previous season have been completely forgotten about. I admit he isn’t the best player in the world but he was very good in his last season.

    It is certainly the prevailing ethos at this time that left and right backs need to support the attack but surely this can’t override the need to have players in these positions who are strong defensively. Especially at a time when United lack a strong holding midfield player.

  • sheesh

    Vannailyrooy said:
    Bloody hell, if JOS is to become our no. 1 RB above Rafael we may as well give up now. He’s a decent chap to have in the squad, to plug any holes when necessary, but no more than that. I also remember him in his first season playing LB, he looked the bollocks. Then he started eating all the pies.

    Pretty much. I’m very happy to have him in our squad but he’s never quite realised the potential that he demonstrated when he first started out in the first team. He’s a versatile player, though, which is useful when we have defenders that tend to drop like flies.

  • captainhormone

    o’shea is not as bad as people make out…..

  • rickbrad2k3

    I would rather put a small orange cone in the right back position than John O’Shea on the pitch. He points at other players a lot which makes it look like he’s doing something and he has a decent song. Apart from that nothing.

  • baggio365

    rafael should start every game. end of discussion.

  • Just1n

    captainhormone said:
    o’shea is not as bad as people make out…..

    yeah he is worse.

  • Just1n

    baggio365 said:
    rafael should start every game. end of discussion.

    Yeah agreed.

    Hey Baggio , did you make it to SA for the world cup?

  • Bill

    Wes Brown for me, has pace and is strong in the tackle.

    RDS – too young (positional sense needs work and rash in the tackle)
    GN – too old (injures/pace)
    JOS – Essential squad player but not a starter

  • baggio365

    Just1n said:
    Yeah agreed.

    Hey Baggio , did you make it to SA for the world cup?

    yeah i did got back to Oz a couple of weeks ago. amazing time over there. really is a beautiful country.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/vannailyrooy/ Vannailyrooy

    The only way young Rafa’s gonna get better is by giving him game time, playing alongside established players. He needs to be no. 1. End of.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    needs to stop getting injured though, and him and fabio seem to have a bug or food poisining bizarrely often