Neville tips Rafael to make position his own
© Getty Images

Gary Neville is convinced the right-back role he occupied for so long at Manchester United is in safe hands. The former England international announced his retirement from the game last week after finally admitting defeat in his battle with injury.

The 35-year-old has struggled for a number of seasons and his last two performances against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion left him certain it was time to walk away. Neville's decision was made easier by the knowledge that youngster Rafael now has the capability to hold down the job.

At this stage last year, it was impossible to comprehend of such a notion. But Neville feels the 20-year-old has made excellent progress this term and is confident United can now look ahead positively, knowing the right-back position is tied down for many years to come.

"You can now say we've got a first-choice back four for the first time in a few years," Neville told United's official website. "Rafael's always had ability. He gets to the ball quickly, he is aggressive, he defends his position well, he is tough, courageous, good on the ball, he gets forward well and provides energy in attack.

He has really developed in the last six months with games and experience. He is more than capable of going on to become United's right-back for many years.
Gary Neville on Rafael

"But he has really developed in the last six months with games and experience. He has also got a great attitude. He is more than capable of going on to become United's right-back for many years."

It takes Neville back to when he was a younger member of the United squad, making his own way forward in a dressing room containing the likes of Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona.

"I remember when I was young defender, you need that time to mature and get experience," he explained. "We haven't had a consistent right-back in the last couple of years. I have been around. Wes Brown and John O'Shea have played some games as well as Rafael, but in the last four or five months we've had a consistent performer in that position."

Rafael is expected to keep his place for Saturday's eagerly-anticipated duel with Manchester City when, for once, Ferguson will not be sweating on the return of so many international stars. Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Dimitar Berbatov and Park Ji-sung offer a pretty solid backbone, in addition to Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans, one of whom will partner Nemanja Vidic in central defence.