Families in Football: Fabio and Rafael Pereira Da Silva

Fabio and Rafael

Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Families in Football’ series. Over the next few weeks, we take a look at siblings, cousins and even parents and children that have played the beautiful game. Some have played cup finals together while others have been on opposing sides. Today we look at Brazilian twins Fabio and Rafael Da Silva.

Families in Football: Brazilian Twins Fabio and Rafael Pereira Da Silva

Rafael Pereira Da Silva

Starting from the streets of Brazilian city Petropolis, Rafael Da Silva was picked up by Fluminense for his five-a-side performances when he was just 11-years-old. As Rafael grew, so did Manchester United‘s interest in the Brazilian. They got the deal over the line, despite interest from Arsenal and Real Madrid, and Rafael arrived in Manchester in January 2008.

Rafael made his debut for United in a 1-1 draw against Newcastle United on the opening day of the 2008/09 season. His first goal for the club came months later away to Arsenal, albeit it was just a 90th-minute consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat. Another milestone came in December 2008 when United won the Club World Cup.

The 18-year-old’s performances during the season impressed both United and the Premier League as he was handed a two-year contract extension, which tied him down till 2013, and he was nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year. Ashley Young, a future red, went on to win the award.

More trophies followed with three Premier League titles, three Community Shields and a League Cup during Sir Alex Ferguson’s final years. However, regardless of the success on the pitch, Rafael never truly fulfilled being the heir to his predecessor Gary Neville’s throne. The most appearances the Brazilian made in a single year was 40 in 2012/13, while the previous three years totalled just 62 altogether.

Playing time continued to dwindle in the two years proceeding years following Ferguson’s retirement. This came to a head under Louis van Gaal, whose football Rafael compared to an “army camp”.

“Van Gaal hated instinct, hated one-touch football,” Rafael said in the book, Sunshine Kids. “He slowed us down so much our football was unrecognisable. He wanted no heart and all head. It felt like an army camp.”

In 2015, Rafael’s seven-year stay at Old Trafford came to an end when United agreed to sell the right-back to Lyon. Game time picked up during his next five years in Ligue 1. Nevertheless, this came at a cost. Unlike most of his time in England where he had consistently fought league titles, Rafael was under Paris Saint-Germain hegemony. The French giants could barely scratch the club owned by the Qatari state.

His football journey took him to Istanbul Basaksehir in 2020. However, this did not last. In September 2021, Rafael returned to Brazil to play for Botafogo.

Fabio Pereira Da Silva

The beginning of Fabio’s career ironically mimics that of his identical twin. Playing for the same five-a-side team as his brother, Fluminese also picked up the Brazilian at just 11-years-old. Symmetry continued as Fabio joined Manchester United alongside his brother in 2008.

Ferguson, who was potentially aware of Arsenal’s interest, sweetened up the Brazilians with a phone call from a certain Portuguese player.

“It is Cristiano Ronaldo,” the voice said. Originally Fabio believed it was a joke; the person on the phone did not strike the same tone. “No, it is Cristiano here. I’m calling you to tell you to come to United. I can help you guys so you need to come. You’re going to enjoy.”

In addition, their mother forced their sons to reject Arsenal as it would have cut Fluminese out of the loop. An agreement to sign for United was found in February 2007 and Fabio moved there in January 2008. Nevertheless, Fabio had to wait for his 18th birthday in July 2008 before he could play an official game.

His debut needed to wait even longer due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Fabio’s long-awaited first appearance eventually came in a 2-1 against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup fourth round. However, looking back, the Brazilian had a tough time breaking through at United. He held the difficult job of dislodging Patrice Evra who had entered the peak years of his career. Fabio recorded just 56 appearances in four permanent seasons.

While his brother pursued his third Premier League title in 2012/13, Fabio endured an unhappy spell at Queens Park Rangers. The West London club put their hand in their pocket and brought big-name stars, such as Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa, which created a toxic dressing room. The environment was not the sort of place you want your young player to gather experience.

Once Ferguson retired, Fabio was sold to Cardiff City who were fighting to survive in the top division. Turmoil far out of Fabio’s hands again occurred when Malky Mackay and club owner Vincent Tan had a devastating public row. Tan wrote to Mackay that he must resign or face the sack.

Fabio’s connection to Manchester was revitalised when United’s former reserve manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was appointed the new manager in January 2014. The Brazilian said of his former manager: “I love Ole. He is a nice guy and I hated it because I felt some players took advantage of that.”

The Welsh club could not escape relegation and Fabio dropped down to the Championship for the next four years: first with Cardiff and then two years at Middlesbrough. He left the northeast of England for Nantes in 2018. And this is where he is still playing today.

Games That Fabio and Rafael Played Together and Against

The twins have played together on fifteen different occasions for Brazil U17s and Manchester United. Their record is quite exemplary as well: ten wins and four losses. For some matches, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt as for two victories they were on the pitch for less than 30 minutes – all of which were routs – and they had only completed 90 minutes together five times.

Whilst at QPR and Cardiff, Fabio never faced Rafael on the opposite end of the pitch. This trend was finally broken in France. Fabio’s Nantes upset Rafael’s Lyon in a 2-1 home win.

Interesting Facts

Fabio and Rafael are not the only footballers in their family: Luis Henrique Da Silva, their lesser-known older brother, played for the Italian side, Brescia.

Mistaken identity is a common cause of enjoyment, and upset, for the twins. Rafael used to wear his brother’s wedding ring to fool the manager, but there was hardly any need for it as Ferguson would confuse the two routinely. Even after five or six years, Sir Alex never got the grasp of getting the two correct. Sometimes Ferguson would give the wrong twin a dressing down, which is still a source of laughter for them.

Reaching further afield, a match official also suffered from the same fate. In a routine 2-0 win versus Barnsley in the League Cup, Fabio was mistakenly identified for a yellow card offence that his brother committed. United protested to the Football Association, who then agreed to transfer the card over to his brother.

In the future, the twins plan to take on the coaching world when their playing careers come to an end: Rafael will lead as manager while Fabio takes on the role of his assistant.

Main Photo

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