The Da Silva twins are virtually indistinguishable by looks but the differences in development are starting to show, with only one likely to become a Manchester United fixture
By George Ankers
Look up at the picture bearing this article's headline. Can you tell the difference between the two men shown?
Identifying the Da Silva twins on looks is a hard task, one not helped when Rafael wears a pair of his brother Fabio’s boots, as was the case on February 2 when Nike delivered each their sibling's personalised footwear.
On the pitch, though, the differences are starting to show through clearly for the first time. Of the two 22-year-olds, one has all but cemented his first-team place at Manchester United while the other looks to have a struggle ahead to play again at Old Trafford.
It is Rafael who has established himself as a United player - and, at this rate, a fixture there for many years to come - but you might not have expected it when Fabio started at right-back in the Champions League final at Barcelona not two full years ago.
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The Brazilians were always the most natural full-backs of that group, however, and it is no surprise to see one of them looking set to occupy the berth for years to come. Rafael and Fabio share, naturally, the fundamental strengths of their game; great pace, raw enthusiasm, drive and capability at both ends.
Both, too, are versatile. Rafael has been utilised both on the right wing and in central midfield while Fabio, nominally a left-back, is right-footed and can be deployed on either flank as a full-back or winger.
The former, though, is starting to show a noticeable edge. His skills are more refined and his maturity growing - though still a work in progress. Most likely this is an unfortunate result of a number of injuries that have occasionally held Fabio back during his formative years.
Sir Alex Ferguson has always been aware of the pair as injury risks, warning in December 2011 that both were "a wee bit too optimistic in the challenges they make". Unluckily, Fabio has had the worst of this, with surgery delaying his United debut and then having to withdraw in that first game due to a different knock.
Behind in his development schedule and with Patrice Evra joined by Alexander Buttner in his preferred position, he was sent to QPR on loan in search of greater playing time. On Saturday afternoon, though the terms of his temporary deal mean that he cannot play, he will be reunited with his brother when United come to Loftus Road.
Before and after their move from Fluminense in January 2008, the pair were inseparable; Fabio's loan has forced them apart for the first time, a moment that both feel has helped them develop as people.
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"I used to ask him all the time if I needed something but now I need more of my own mind so I've grown more mature. It's bad because I miss him but it's good to learn more."
"We spoke about [splitting] when we were 12 years old," Fabio recalled to The Independent earlier in February. "We would say: 'One day we are going to split because we cannot be together for ever'. I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't know when.
"Now we have split, it's better. When he and I play together we look at each other. When I make a mistake, he doesn't lose confidence but he gets [diminished] a little bit.
"Now we understand each other more. We are different. He is there, I am here. When we are together, we discuss this. I say: 'When I play bad you don't have to be unhappy'."
The spell at QPR has not gone completely to plan for Fabio, who has continued to be periodically frustrated by back and knee injuries and failed to nail down a regular place when fit. His form has not been the sort likely to divert Sir Alex from his stated intention of phasing Buttner in for Evra in the long term.
He may not be needed at Old Trafford again although, whether they stay up or not, it would surely be unwise to return to the maelstrom of short-term stupidity that is QPR.
And, though accepting that you will not make it at Manchester United is not the sort of decision that any young footballer should be keen to make, Fabio need only watch how Rafael is flourishing there to know that he can still go on and do the same elsewhere.
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