Neville backs Rafael at right-back
Gary Neville has hailed the improvement made by Rafael and told the youngster he can stay as Manchester United's right-back for "many years".
The 35-year-old has struggled for a number of seasons and his last two performances - which could have brought dismissal against both Stoke and West Brom - left him certain it was time to walk away.
Neville's decision was made easier by the knowledge young full-back 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 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.
"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 said.
"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.