Perhaps twice is too fewer times to call it a habit but Pep Guardiola does enjoy resuscitating players in the squad he takes over; players who were on the fringes of the first team, perhaps closer to being on the way out than playing regularly for the first team. At FC Barcelona, that player was Pedro, a player who’d made his debut the year before without much noise. During Pep’s first year at Barça, Pedro became an important revulsive in the team until he actually took over the starting spot of a certain Thiérry Henry. His counterpart at Bayern has undoubtedly been a certain Brazilian right-back.
Rafinha was bought two summers ago from Genoa as cover at full-back for either full-back spot. In his first season he ended up starting 20 Bundesliga games but last season, after the poor results in 2011-2012 and the irruption of David Alaba onto the stage, Rafinha started only six and played only thirteen, for a total of 567 minutes, less than a third of what he’d played the season before. Furthermore, his shameful behaviour in the non-event that was Borussia Dortmund-Bayern München in the Bundesliga’s Rückrunde last season didn’t do him any favours. In the summer, a transfer was a strong possibility and he was rumoured with a return to Schalke or moves to England or Italy as well as to clubs back in his homeland, in Brazil. After Philipp Lahm’s impressive attacking stats last season, despite many saying that his overall season performance hadn’t been his best, Rafinha’s future wasn’t looking at its brightest.
I like intelligent players – Pep Guardiola on Rafinha
However, Pep Guardiola had a few tricks up his sleeve. Lahm’s move into midfield obviously left Rafinha as the obvious choice for his replacement. Rafinha has started the last three Bundesliga matches, the DFB Pokal match against Hannover in midweek, the UEFA Super Cup Final and the Champions League match against CSKA Moscow, and is now no doubt a regular feature in Guardiola’s Bayern first XI. His form has been the main reason why he’s kept his place in the side, reminiscent of his performances for Schalke years ago. However, Guardiola himself has said that the reason why he was given such confidence was his on-field intelligence. Guardiola himself as declared himself as “surprised” at Rafinha’s performances and even Uli Hoeneß has highlighted his professionalism and quality as a starter.
Guardiola added that “Rafinha has extensive experience. He’s intelligent, doesn’t give away possession often… I like intelligent players”. It was Lahm’s intelligence which earned him a spot in midfield, as Guardiola did say that he was the most intelligent player he’d ever coach. It seems that intelligence is also a key factor in the confidence he has in Rafinha. How confident and important he is we will see in the coming months as the Brazilian’s contract runs out in 2014.