Rafael and Fabio da Silva became cult heroes from almost the moment they joined Manchester United in 2008, but it could have been very different had they chosen Arsenal instead.
The twins were hot talents from a young age and were scouted by United as early as 2005 at a youth tournament in Hong Kong when they were only 15. Arsenal were also on the scene, but it was United they chose, initially agreeing a deal in 2007 and later moving to England upon turning 18.
Cristiano Ronaldo was only a young player himself in those days and not the global sporting icon he later became. But he was still a star attraction, having exploded onto the scene in 2003, and played a major role in helping the Da Silvas make that early decision that defined their careers.
They had already travelled to Manchester for a trial with United and returned home. Yet there was also an offer to go to Arsenal, and Ronaldo, seemingly at the behest of Sir Alex Ferguson, determined not to lose the twins to Arsene Wenger, got on the phone in 2005.
“First it was a Portuguese greeting. Then the voice says: ‘It is Cristiano Ronaldo’,” Fabio told the Daiy Mail. “I think it is a joke but he says, ‘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 [it].’
“Sir Alex Ferguson must have known about Arsenal. This was his way of making sure we came to Manchester. It worked,” the full-back, now 31, added.
Fabio in particular took a lot from Ronaldo, who was five years older and spoke their language. He also sees the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s return to Old Trafford as huge for some of the club’s younger talents now.
“He is my hero, the best. He helped me a lot, saying, ‘Don’t worry, just play. Calm, cool. I will be here for you’. That meant so much and, of course, his talent is something I’ve never seen in my life,” Fabio explained.
“I love him because he set a very big example for young boys like us. That is what he will do for the players this second time. The things I took from Cristiano are for life. The players about to play with him now at United should be thankful every day.”