Irwin backs Rafael to come good for United
Sir Alex Ferguson's regret that United won't be in Madrid on May 22 for the Champions League final will have opened up deep wounds for Rafael da Silva. The Reds lost their way in the second leg at Old Trafford against Bayern Munich when the 19-year-old was sent off. Fergie accused the Germans of getting the young South American red-carded for a second booking when he pulled back Franck Ribery in the second half with United heading for an aggregate victory. Despite blaming Bayern's players for Rafael's early exit - and ultimately United's departure from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage - the right-back's clumsy attempt to halt the Frenchman opened the door for the critical jugdment. When Bayern face Inter Milan a week on Saturday in the European Cup final the hurt will surface yet again for Rafael. But the right-back spot is one area Ferguson will not worry about when he assesses the areas to revamp for next season. Captain Gary Neville has signed a new 12-month deal and Wes Brown and John O'Shea have both had excellent spells in the role in the last two years before falling to injuries. All three are at the top end of the age scale, with Neville 35, Brown 30 and O'Shea 29. Rafael will be 20 in July but former United full-back Denis Irwin believes the precocious youngster will learn from his Champions League horror and challenge the experienced trio. "Rafa was vilified in some quarters for initially making the challenge on Ribery," said Irwin. "He has been prone to using his arms on occasions and that does leave you open to a yellow card. It was a very harsh lesson for him to learn considering the consequences of his actions. Rafael inexperience "He has had a tendency to dive in or attempt to clumsily pull players back because he wants to win the ball back early. "That happens when you are young and eager to be back in possession. "But with experience he will learn not to dive in and he will understand he has to bide his time. That comes with age. "In the meantime, you will make mistakes like he has done." Rafael compounded his Bayern red card when he deserted his post against Tottenham last month allowing Ledley King's header to power home in the hole he had been guarding on the line. Fortunately for da Silva, United won the match and there were no recriminations. "It was another lesson he has to bank and learn from," added Irwin. "It was his job to cling on to the post and make sure there was no gap there. He tried to read a flick and got caught out. I noticed Edwin Van der Sar had a couple of words with him after the incident. You can be sure Rafael won't do that again. "But it is all part of the learning curve. Every young player in any position makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them. "I think Rafael is a brilliant prospect. He's a typical United full-back. It's in the Reds' nature to attack and they like a full-back to bomb on and help a winger. The team need them going down the line. But you have to be fully aware of your defensive duties as well. "He reminds me very much of Patrice Evra when he first arrived at the club from Monaco. "Pat was quick and loved to storm down the flank but the defensive part of his game needed attention. He learned quickly and is now the best left-back in the world. "If Rafael picks up on Evra's game and also learns from someone like Gary Neville, then all these little things in his game that need improving will get ironed out. "I can only see him getting better and better." Do you think Rafael will be as good as Evra? Have your say.
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