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Rafinha has made over 300 Bundesliga appearances during spells with Schalke and Bayern Munich, coming from poverty in Brazil to the top of world football. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA
Rafinha has made over 300 Bundesliga appearances during spells with Schalke and Bayern Munich, coming from poverty in Brazil to the top of world football. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

Bayern Munich's Rafinha: the underrated Brazilian workhorse who beat poverty and adversity to reach the top


Entering his 14th season in Europe and 13th in the Bundesliga, Rafinha is in some of the best shape of his career, even if this could prove to be the 33-year-old's final campaign with Bayern Munich. Growing up without food, leaving home as a teenager and losing his father at a young age, the Brazilian has overcome more than his fair share of tragedies and traumas to get where he is now.

His positive attitude helped him succeed, though, and the music-loving defender has recounted his extraordinary journey to DAZN.

Rafinha's road to success was certainly a path less travelled. - © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

"My family was very poor," Rafinha, who grew up in the town of Londrina in Brazil, said. "When I was a kid, we didn't have anything to eat. When you don't have anything to eat, life is a little different."

The start Rafinha had to life and his football career would have been too much for many to handle, but his mind-set hasn't wavered since the day he knew he wanted to be a footballer. "I left home when I was 15 to join Coritiba. That was in 2000. It was difficult," Rafinha said. "I just went with an empty bag. I wanted to be a professional, but I also wanted to help my family.

Rafinha has become a six-time Bundesliga winner during his time with Bayern Munich. - © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

"I wanted to earn enough money so my mother didn't have to work anymore."

Being the family's bread-winner became all the more important after the unexpected death of Rafinha's father, during a time when he'd just been called up to the Brazil U17 team. It was a moment in the Brazilian's life which almost brought an end to everything he'd worked so hard for.

"I lived with my friend, he took me to training and back to his house," Rafinha recalled. "Then someone rang me and told me I need to go back to Londrina, my Dad wasn't doing well.

Rafinha was part of Bayern Munich's treble-winning squad of 2013, beating Borussia Dortmund in the all-Bundesliga UEFA Champions League final. - © imago

"They didn't tell me on the phone that my father had already died, I had to find out for myself later on. I went home to Londrina and stayed in my house for a month. I didn't do anything at all for that time. I had given up and didn't want to do anything. I was 16 years old and it's so hard to lose your father at this time.

"I wasn't old enough or mature enough to deal with that situation back then. That's why sometimes I feel incomplete. I only feel complete and successful in football."

But 17 years later and Rafinha's career has taken him to Schalke, Genoa and Bayern at club level, across two countries, winning 16 trophies in his career, all of them in the South of Germany. But something has always been missing. "It's just that my father wasn't here with me to see it. It's sad that he couldn't live this beautiful life with me and my family," Rafinha admits.

Perhaps it's that near-impossible start to life and heart-breaking tragedy that helped fortify the now 33-year-old and turn him into the mentally unbreakable full-back he has become. Despite being in one of the most competitive squads in the Bundesliga and all of Europe, Rafinha has made over 20 appearances in all but one of his seven seasons with Bayern to date.

Entering his eighth and likely final season – after signing a one-year contract extension in the summer of 2018 – Rafinha's time on the pitch is likely to be limited, but he knows the job of a footballer isn't segregated to just the pitch. Especially if you want to win trophies.

"At Bayern we have 22 players. Twenty-two top players," Rafinha said. "When you don't play, you support the team regardless: from the bench, or from the stands.

Watch: Rafinha on life at Bayern back in 2016!

"It really isn't easy, and I say that with all seriousness, but it's normal for a big team with only good players that someone has to stay out of the squad. But when everyone supports each other, when you're only thinking positively, whether you play or not, and everyone is on the same wavelength, that's when you win big titles."

Rafinha speaks from experience, and he has achieved enough to know what his priorities are – and getting upset about sitting out the odd game is not one of them.

"We won the treble with Jupp Heynckes. That's something pretty special, right?" he said. "When I'm sad sometimes I'll come into my trophy room and take a look around, clean the trophies a little and then everything's okay again."

A part of Bayern's historic treble-winning team of 2013, and with almost 250 appearances to his name for the club, Rafinha has helped swell the Allianz Arena's trophy room. That is a sanctuary he can return to time and time again whenever he is in need of a pick-me-up.

After all, Rafinha has turned tragedies into a tale that his father would have been proud of – and it was a true story.

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