When the draw for this season’s Champion League group stage was made, Istanbul Basaksehir’s Rafael da Silva said “dreams can come true” as he fulfilled a wish of facing former side Manchester United.
Right-back Rafael, 30, said he will go “back to where everything started” when he comes up against his old club, where he still has a close bond.
United have started their European campaign in perfect fashion, winning both of their games, and have the first of back-to-back fixtures against Rafael’s new team on Wednesday (17:55 GMT kick-off), with the Turkish champions bottom of Group H and without a point.
Despite being sold to Lyon five years ago, why does the affable Brazilian remain a cult hero for Red Devils supporters?
‘Fearless and infectious’
Spotted for their talents during an international youth team tournament, Rafael and twin brother Fabio joined United from Fluminense in January 2008, but were not eligible to play for Sir Alex Ferguson’s senior side until July of that year when they turned 18.
Having made his debut in the 2008-09 season, Rafael went on to play 170 times for United, winning three Premier League titles, one League Cup and the Club World Cup.
“He was fearless from when he first came in,” Manchester United author Wayne Barton tells Sport. “They came over from Brazil and were not allowed to play, but he was so confident that he would come into a Double-winning team and do well.
“A lot of youngsters come in and tread water but you could see Rafael’s personality on the side straight away. He grabbed the opportunity – and because he was so infectious, everyone was excited.
“Both of the twins’ make-up came from growing up on the streets of Brazil and having to be competitive. Rafael was a fiery player that was instantly loved and that feeling never went away. It was part of his personality and suited the team down to the ground.”
A risk taker – why he was such a success
Rafael played alongside some stellar names at United, including Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
“It wasn’t an obvious marriage but part of the love was because Sir Alex Ferguson felt alive with his team, which contained the Portuguese-speaking Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson and the twins,” says Barton, who is ghostwriting The Sunshine Kids, an autobiography of Rafael and Fabio.
“They were not coasters – they were fully committed, whole hearted. And because they were young, the crowd got behind them straight away.”
Under Ferguson, Rafael played a large portion of the 2012-13 campaign, United’s most recent Premier League title triumph, and featured regularly for his successor David Moyes.
However, he played just 10 times for Louis van Gaal after the Dutchman took charge in 2014 and was sold to Lyon, where he played for five seasons from 2015, before joining Basaksehir in the summer.
Barton adds: “Rafael was a risk-taking right-back and bombed up and down that side. He was not good being asked to concentrate just on the defensive side of his game, but he did have notable games in that aspect when coming up against athletic players like Gareth Bale.
“Under Van Gaal, he was being asked to do things which were not in his natural game. Van Gaal decided very quickly he did not want him.”