By James Young | This article was first published on Football Chronicle on February 20, 2020
Manchester United’s Brazil-based scout, John Calvert-Toulmin is best known for bringing Fábio and Rafael da Silva to Old Trafford. The twins made a combined total of 131 appearances for United and have both gone on to enjoy strong careers after leaving Manchester with both twins currently enjoying careers in Ligue 1 with Lyon and Nantes respectively.
However, there was another Brazillian that joined United a few months earlier than the da Silva’s that didn’t quite make the same impact called Rodrigo Possebon.
Possebon, at just 19, swapped Internacional of Porto Alegre for Manchester after being tapped up by United in January 2008 for £3 million. United were in need of a replacement for Roy Keane after he left two years prior and Ferguson thought he had found him in Possebon, describing him as the ‘natural successor’ to the Irishman.
The Manchester Evening News also heaped praise on the youngster at the time and compared him to Paul Scholes instead. The hype surrounding the youngster was pretty high. Another Brazillian, Anderson had signed six months earlier and was getting off to a relatively good start, so there was no reason as to why Possebon couldn’t as well.
Possebon was different to Anderson, though as instead of being a creative midfielder that played just behind the number nine, he was deployed in a much deeper role that moved the ball forward. Similar to that of the current Brazillian at United, Fred.
Life was going well for the youngster in Manchester. Despite fears about him being too young and not ready for the difference between Brazillian and English football, Possebon was adapting to life in England well. He had been impressing in the Manchester Senior Cup and the Premier Reserve League North and had caught the eye of first-team coaches who were keeping tabs on him.
Possebon had become a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team in the reserves and made 11 appearances (eight of those starts) in all competitions after he signed for the club halfway through the season under the current United boss. Solskjær’s side at the time featured the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Danny Drinkwater. Possebon was managing to compete with them at the time reasonably well.
The Manchester Senior Cup had been a huge success for the side. After easily seeing off Stockport, Bury and Bolton in their group. Manchester City and Oldham were United’s opponents in the knockout stages, Solskjær’s promising young side had no problems in dispatching City 4-1 and Oldham 2-0. A final at Old Trafford awaited against Bolton.
This was the second opportunity for Solskjær to pick up silverware that season as well after his side defeated Liverpool 3-2 in the Lancashire Senior Cup final. The reserves at the time were filled with potential. Possebon was a big part of the hype.
And it was Possebon that stole the limelight on the night as well against Bolton in the Manchester Senior Cup final.
Playing alongside Michael Barnes and Sam Hewson in midfield, Possebon was the best player on the pitch. His ability to get on the ball and stretch the play out with his passes and close control was key for United winning on the night. The Brazillian had risen to the occasion whereas Hewson was looking slightly nervous on the ball and unlike himself.
United’s first goal of the night came as a result of a great pass by Possebon from deep in his own half. As he had done throughout this game, Possebon first time, with the outside of his foot found Welbeck. The English forward took the ball from just inside of the centre-circle and played a nice one-two with Barnes who, after gliding past two players, found Welbeck with a cross who then made it one nil with a tap-in.
Possebon could also add goals to his game and did that 15 minutes later after United’s first on the night.
The Brazillian picked up the ball from just inside his own half and after playing a nice ball into Chris Eagles which ricocheted into Barnes, the first goal of his United career was gifted to him on a plate after he volleyed home from 16 yards out. The cup was United’s and Possebon was largely to thank for it.
Ferguson had been impressed by Possebon’s performances since he signed and as a result, Possebon was called up for United’s pre-season tour of South Africa alongside Cleverley and Craig Cathcart. It had been an impressive start to his career in Manchester for the 17-year-old that had to leave his home to come to Europe.
United’s pre-season tour of 2008 was a milestone for the young players that had been called up to the first-team. Cleverley scored his first goal for United since making the jump up from the reserves in a 4-0 win over Kaizer Chiefs in Pretoria. Possebon also managed to get himself a start in the same game, lasting for the first half before being replaced by Eagles in a solid performance.
There was also a cameo appearance for Possebon in United’s final friendly against Juventus which gave him 20 minutes to show United fans that hadn’t seen him before how he played.
Ferguson was obviously impressed with what he had seen from Possebon and as a result, he had given him a shirt number for the 2008-09 season for the first-team. Number 34 was now officially Possebon’s.
After an impressive pre-season and performances in big matches for the reserves, it was only a matter of time before Possebon made his official debut for the first-team. United’s first game of the season at home to Newcastle provided Possebon with that opportunity.
With the game poised at 1-1 on 64 minutes and United short of midfielders with Anderson away on Olympic duty and Park Ji-Sung and Owen Hargreaves out with injuries, Ferguson was short of options in midfield. So, it was the perfect opportunity for Possebon to make his debut.
Although the score remained 1-1 at full-time, Possebon had got his first taste of competitive first-team action alongside fellow Brazillian Rafael and it was a great experience for both players that were tipped as big prospects.
In the following match away to Portsmouth, Possebon also managed to get on the pitch for the final bits. Ferguson was obviously seeing something in this exciting young player that his scout found 6,000 miles from Manchester.
Everything was going well for Possebon and it seemed that he had no problems in coming into a completely new environment and country. Talking to MUTV at the time, Possebon spoke about how he had to change his style of play to suit English football. “Here is different to Brazil, you have to look up every time you have the ball. It’s very fast.”
A month later though, there would be an event that would change Possebon’s career in his first start for the club against Middlesbrough in the League Cup.
It was a big game for United as despite it only being in the League Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo was in the starting 11 for the first time since United’s Champions League win in Moscow. There was also a strong team put out with Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidić both starting. Another strong performance from the Brazillian was likely as he was beginning to become a rotation player in the first-team.
It looked like the perfect opportunity to give Possebon his full debut in a game that would allow him to bed nicely into the team against a side that would give him more time on the ball.
This wasn’t the case.
Sixty-five minutes in, Possebon went in for a challenge with Middlesbrough’s Emanuel Pogatetz. Pogatez decided to raise his studs and go for Possebon’s leg instead of the ball. It was a horror tackle with absolutely no intention to win the ball. Possebon needed six minutes of treatment on the pitch with oxygen before he was taken to the hospital. What made it worse was that Pogatez protested his innocence after he was sent off.
As expected, Ferguson was furious. “You don’t want to see things like that and I hope I never see anything like it again”. He told reporters after the game.
This wasn’t the first time that Pogatez had put in a tackle like this one before as well. When playing in Russia for Spartak Moscow against Shinnik Yaroslavl, he had given Yaroslav Kharitonskiy a double leg fracture. Which led to Pogatez being banned from all footballing activity for six months.
There was fear at United that Possebon could have suffered a similar injury. Worries were soon dashed away though as Possebon was cleared from the hospital without any major damage and no break to his right leg.
Within a month Possebon was back in training for United and it seemed like at the time this injury wasn’t as bad as first thought. Another start soon followed in the League Cup against Queens Park Rangers and things for Possebon were slowly getting back on track. Owen Hargreaves’ long-term injury had provided more opportunities for Possebon to challenge for a place in midfield.
Despite Possebon not featuring in a league game until the end of the season, appearances were still coming in cup competitions. The Brazillian started in the next game for United in the quarter-final of the League Cup on the way to the final, against Blackburn in a 5-3 win at Old Trafford. Possebon was also making substitute appearances in the FA Cup, coming on against the likes of Southampton and Derby County.
However, by the end of the season, the hype had switched to Federico Macheda. The young Italian’s dramatic goal against Aston Villa put United top of the table with seven games to play of the season. Despite receiving a cap for the Italy U20 side because of his dual passport, Possebon was no longer the exciting young player that fans were excited about.
United’s last league game that season away to Hull would be Possebon’s last for the club. The following season would prove to be a difficult one. With chances becoming harder to get in the first-team, Ferguson sent Possebon out on loan to Braga in Portugal.
A 34-minute cameo off the bench against Elfsborg in a Europa League qualifier would be the only time Possebon would wear a Braga shirt. By February, Possebon was back in Manchester again playing for the reserves until the end of the 2009-10 season but by July, Possebon had left the club permanently for Santos in Brazil.
A loan move to Rangers was allegedly on the table but Possebon had been offered a four-year contract to return to Brazil. He made three appearances for Santos until the end of the 2009 Brazillian season and the next year he picked up the biggest medal of his career in the form of the Copa Libertadores, making five appearances across the campaign.
This really would be it for Possebon at a top club. The next two years would see him play for five different clubs across Italy and the Brazillian Série C and non-league pyramid. An unsuccessful spell at Vicenza in Italy where Possebon didn’t make a single appearance was followed by spells in Brazil at Criciúma, Mirassol, Juventude and Náutico.
After failing to make the grade at any of these clubs, Possebon didn’t play football again for another two years. In a desperate attempt to give himself a last shot in the UK, Possebon came back for the first time since leaving United to try and find himself a club in 2015. Trials were arranged with various clubs but nothing came of it and another return came to Brazil with URT and Passo Fundo in the Brazillian non-league.
In January 2018, Possebon played for the last team in his career aged 28. Vietnamese side Ho Chí Minh City took a gamble on him but Possebon was released after a month without playing.
It’s difficult to say what led to this happening. The injury that Possebon had to deal with at United was not as bad as first feared but it didn’t help his chances at the club. It was always going to be hard to break into a United midfield that featured the likes of Michael Carrick and Scholes.
It’s a real shame that it never happened for Possebon as he was a really promising player when he came to United.
Those that watched the reserves at the time and his performance in the Manchester Premier Cup final knew he was as good, if not better than some of the players in that squad. Welbeck, Drinkwater and Cleverley all went on to have successful careers and played for their country, Possebon’s career was almost over before it had even properly begun.
Feature Image via by Phil Cole/Getty Images)