Munich - Few members of the current FC Bayern München setup know FIFA Ballon d'Or 2014 nominee Manuel Neuer as well as Rafinha.

The duo played together for five years at FC Schalke 04 before joining up at the German record champions in 2011, and the Brazilian full-back clearly couldn't be happier for his long-term friend and colleague, who was named on the final three-man shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d'Or on Monday.

Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, the Brazilian shared his thoughts on Neuer's nomination, head coach Pep Guardiola and the strengths of the current FC Bayern side...

bundesliga.com: Rafinha, you've just come from the first training session following Manuel Neuer's nomination for the Ballon d'Or. Has he been celebrating today?

Rafinha: Sure, everyone's congratulated him. It's a great honour to make the three-man shortlist, everyone's delighted for him.

bundesliga.com: You played with him at Schalke - not many know him as well as you do. What makes him so special?

Rafinha: His nomination really means something special to me. I was there when he made his Bundesliga debut for Schalke. Now we're playing in our ninth season together: five years with Schalke, and this is our fourth year with Bayern. I've always followed his career. You could see pretty early on that he was going to be a great goalkeeper, and he's proved his credentials in the last five years beyond any doubt.

bundesliga.com: Will he win the Ballon d'Or?

Rafinha: Normally keepers don't even make the final three, so it's already a huge achievement, but I think he should go on and win it. He's been brilliant in the last year. We won almost everything with Bayern and in the summer he won the World Cup with Germany. I've got huge respect for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, everyone knows how good they are, but I think Manuel's the favourite.

bundesliga.com: Is it mainly down to him that you've only conceded three goals in the Bundesliga so far this season?

Rafinha: When we need him, he's there. Obviously he's playing in a great team that doesn't give much away. We put a big emphasis on giving away as few shots on our goal as possible. When one does get through, we can count on Manuel.

bundesliga.com: You've become a mainstay in the side since Pep Guardiola took over as Bayern head coach. How much have you benefited from his arrival?

Rafinha: I also played a lot under Jupp [Heynckes] in my first year here, but didn't make as many starts in my second. It's gone really well for me under Pep, for sure. He's put a lot of trust in me and I've been returning the favour out on the pitch.

bundesliga.com: How does the trust manifest itself? Does Guardiola give you particular instructions before a game?

Rafinha: No, normally he talks to the whole team. I'm one player in a very good team that, together, always tries to be the best they can be in training and on the pitch.

bundesliga.com: You came relatively late to the game, having played futsal as a youngster. It's a very technical game that requires a lot of agility. Has that come in handy for Guardiola's fast-paced passing game?

Rafinha: That's a good question. I played futsal for ten years, starting out aged six. Futsal equips you with a particular set of skills - you have less space, you have to move quickly and you hardly have any time to make decisions. Then when you step out onto a big pitch and have more room, everything feels noticeably easier.

bundesliga.com: The coach thinks of you really highly. "Preferably I'd have 18, 19 Rafinhas," he said last season…

Rafinha: I'm happy that he likes what I do on the pitch. They're all great players at Bayern, though. I'm the smallest here and I try to give my best for the team and for the club. I always want to put in good performances that please the coach.

bundesliga.com: How would a team comprising 18 or 19 Rafinhas play?

Rafinha: (laughs) No, that was just a quote from Guardiola after the game against Dortmund [Rafinha was sent off in the last minute]. I played more aggressively, he was referring to my performance. One Rafinha's enough. We've got plenty of good players here.

bundesliga.com: Guardiola often changes his defensive line-up - sometimes playing with three, other times with four at the back. Is that confusing?

Rafinha: No, we're really adaptable and flexible at the back, whether we play with four or a back three. The change really isn't a problem. We practise the different systems enough in training.

bundesliga.com: Is it this flexibility that makes Bayern so strong and unpredictable?

Rafinha: Yes, that's definitely one of the reasons. All players have mastered a number of positions and systems. That makes us really hard to read for the opposition. The coach has lots of ideas and we try to take them on board and put them into action.

bundesliga.com: Is the current team even stronger than the one that won the Champions League in 2013?

Rafinha: That was a great team, we played an unbelievable season. But I think Guardiola's improved our game even more. He's made us that little bit better across the board. He always wants us to improve, step by step. That's why we're so successful.

bundesliga.com: Are other teams a threat to Bayern in this kind of form?

Rafinha: Of course, every team's a threat. We're seven points clear of second place, but that's not enough for us. When you play out a draw, that's two points dropped. We have to win as often as possible, at home home and away. If we stay focussed on ourselves, we'll continue to be successful.

bundesliga.com: Which teams do you fear the most?

Rafinha: Wolfsburg, Gladbach - they're having a really good season - as are Leverkusen and Hoffenheim. Obviously Dortmund are really strong, but they're going through a tough time. You can't rule out Schalke either. They're all top sides that you have to respect.

bundesliga.com: Do you think about returning to the international fold with Brazil? Head coach Carlos Dunga's an avid follower of the Bundesliga…

Rafinha: I don't want to talk about myself in the same sentence as the Selecao. I've been at Bayern for four years, I've won almost everything here and made plenty of appearances. We're always playing - Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday - the coach has plenty of opportunities to watch me. I'm sure I'll get on his good side if I continue to play like this.

bundesliga.com: What's the interest in Bayern like in Brazil?

Rafinha: Bayern have been well known in Brazil for decades. People also look to Spain, Italy or England, but for four or five years there's been a real interest in Bayern. We're always in finals, winning titles - every football fan is interested in Bayern München. People enjoy watching us and the Brazillians really like our style of play.

Rafinha was speaking to Felix Seaman-Höschele