Out of a raft of exciting young Portuguese footballers coming through the ranks, Braga forward Rafael Silva is one who is considerably ahead of what can be considered a normal learning curve.
Still only 21 years old, Rafa, as he is known, has accumulated 64 appearances in Portugal’s top flight, earned himself three caps for the full national team and was the youngest member of the Seleção squad Paulo Bento took to Brazil last summer.
Possessor of quick feet, an inventive passing range and a clinical finisher, Rafa is equally comfortable playing on either flank or as an attacking midfielder. He averages around a goal every four games in his senior career, which is none too shabby considering his youth and the fact he does not take penalties or free kicks.
Unusually for a promising up-and-coming footballer in Portugal, Rafa did not come through the youth system of one of Portugal’s bigger clubs.
After playing for local teams Povoense and Alverca, both near his home town of Forte da Casa on the outskirts of Lisbon, Rafa took a trip north when he was signed by Second Division Feirense. One season in the youth team was enough to persuade the club’s coaching staff that Rafa was ready for senior football. His impact the following campaign was immediate and explosive.
The then 19-year-old missed just one league match all season, rattled up 11 goals, and was the club’s player of the season. So impressive were his performances that it was something of a coup for Braga when they won the race for his signature, beating off competition from Sporting Lisbon.
The following season witnessed Rafa make a smooth transition into the upper echelons of Portuguese football, scoring 9 goals in 32 matches in all competitions. Among those taking note of his incisive attacking play was the Portugal manager at the time, Paulo Bento, who handed Rafa his first cap in a friendly against Cameroon in March 2014 then selected him at the expense of the rejuvenated Ricardo Quaresma in Portugal’s World Cup squad.
Sporting a new heavily bearded look in 2014/15, Rafa took a while to get going, but a spectacular volleyed goal that helped knock fierce local rivals Vitória Guimarães out of the Portuguese Cup in November kick-started his season. He was named Young Player of the Month in Portugal’s Primeira Liga in December, and has retained his excellent form ever since, with incessant rumours linking him to a string of top European clubs.
His many suitors have not been short of opportunities to monitor his progress. Braga coach Sérgio Conceição, the former Portugal international who enjoyed a stellar career playing in a similar position to Rafa for FC Porto and Lazio, among others, certainly has not doubts.
Still just 21, Rafa is the only Braga player to have started all 26 of their Primeira Liga games so far this season.
Remember the name.
Written by Tom Kundert
Follow Tom on Twitter @Portu_Goal
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