It was apparently the one distinguishing item that Ferguson could tell the two apart, but now there is so much more that divides the swashbuckling fullbacks plucked from Fluminese after catching the eye of the United scouts almost ten years ago.
Life for Rafael is rosy having established himself as the first choice right back while his Premier League peers selected him in the PFA team of the year. Fabio meanwhile, has the bitter taste of relegation in his mouth and has seen his football education hampered by events at QPR and will no doubt be glad that he can return to Old Trafford at the end of the season.
Rafael’s route into the first team has been a decidedly less troublesome one than Fabio’s with Gary Neville right back tenure coming to an end and right back alternative Chris Smalling hampered by injuries. Fabio, seen as a long term left back solution has also filled in at right back when called upon notably in the 2011 Champions League final, but a reinvigorated Patrice Evra and the acquisition of Alexander Buttner has made progress in the side even more difficult.
Both are clearly slick operators but the rashness and eagerness to jump into tackles that has blighted Rafael’s game like the one that cost United dearly in the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich in 2010 have become less frequent. That’s not to say they have entirely disappeared from his game though but Rafael’s decision-making has improved which has clearly come with more first team exposure and his attacking threat and crossing ability continues to be an asset.
Watching several games on TV and taking in two games at Loftus Road this season, League Cup ties against Walsall during the Mark Hughes era and the embarrassing defeat to MK Dons, life could not have been more different for Fabio compared to his brother Rafael this season. QPR have suffered from uncertainty in all areas of the pitch but at the back it has been most costly. Mark Hughes’s decision to loan a clearly talented player from his former manager and club looked like a good piece of business as QPR lacked quality in the full back ranks, but a combination of injury and two managers trying to juggle and rotate a host of new players didn’t make it the ideal surroundings for a young player to flourish.
That’s not to say that Fabio didn’t show what he was capable of during his time at QPR. In the few games where QPR showed signs of unity as a team, he impressed against Sunderland and Spurs when faced with direct, pacey attacking midfielders but in those League Cup games he did not escape the frustrations of disgruntled QPR supporters lambasting him for his poor delivery when he ventured forward.
Fabio once considered the more talented of the twins may not be progressing at the same rate as his brother Rafael, but at 22 his United future is by no means at an end. Another loan spell at a club with greater stability might suit both club and player with Evra’s form showing no signs of dropping and there will still be hope that the Brazilian twins can emulate the success of the Bury boys Gary and Phil Neville who once ruled the full back ranks at Old Trafford.