SPIRO: Generous Rafael dispels myth

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

Grounded, polite and kind, Lyon defender Rafael da Silva is a refreshing presence in the lucrative, disconnected world of professional football, writes Ligue1.com’s Matthew Spiro.

In this week’s column I can make a dramatic revelation: not all footballers are greedy. Not every top-flight 'star' is oblivious to the world that exists outside of their luxurious bubble. Some are nice people who think about others. I know this because I met one of them in Lyon last week.

The hour I spent with Rafael at OL's impressive new training ground was a pleasure. Not only was the Brazilian friendly and open, he spoke sense and expressed himself eloquently. I wasn't totally expecting this. Firstly I wasn't sure his English would be any good (my Portuguese is non-existent). And secondly I feared that having spent seven years being molly-coddled in the hyper-protected world of the Premier League - hanging out with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and "top, top man" Wes Brown - he would have little to say but platitudes.

Yet Rafael reminded me that you should never make assumptions. Not only did he speak perfect English (with a slight Mancunian twang), he was refreshingly honest. When he joined from Manchester United in 2015, it was seen as a coup for Lyon, yet his early performances were underwhelming. "I wasn't expecting the league to be that strong and I struggled," Rafael reflects today. He's not the first Premier League footballer to underestimate Ligue 1, but he's one of the few to admit doing it.

Watch: Rafael's interview with The Ligue 1 Show

Noble gesture

Things got worse when he picked up an injury in his fifth appearance. At the time, Rafael was really grateful to Lyon for offering him a chance to bounce back after two difficult seasons in the post-Ferguson era at United. He felt awful about the injury and told his new employers he didn't wish to be paid for the period during which he was sidelined. Lyon were obliged to pay him, but suggested he donate his salary to the club's charity. "I looked carefully at the projects the 'OL Foundation' are involved with," he explains. "They showed me the robot and I thought it was a brilliant idea."

The robot that Rafael's wages purchased is a special state-of-the-art machine that follows the players at training and on matchdays, allowing hospitalised children to interact with them. "For the kids it's the best thing in the world," Rafael says with enthusiasm. I had been told before the interview that Rafael didn't like discussing his noble gesture, and this reluctance was genuine. He believes that giving his salary to charity at this particular time should not be seen as something special, and has felt embarrassed by the publicity. "I didn't just do it for the kids, I did it me for too," he insists. "It makes me happy."

Since then, Rafael has bounced back. He has seen off competition from French international Christophe Jallet to establish himself as Lyon's first-choice right-back, and this season is widely considered to be one of Ligue 1's best full-backs. Not that he's getting big-headed. When I compliment him on his grounded, self-effacing attitude, he offers a knowing, slightly self-conscious smile. It feels like I'm not the first person to have made that observation. "When somebody tells me I am polite it makes me happy...proud. Proud for me but more for my parents because it is thanks to them, 100 percent. I owe them a lot." Mr and Mrs Da Silva, I can confirm, you've done a fine job.


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