Perhaps from his performance and penalty heroics on debut, Royals fans realised they had an excellent goalkeeper standing between the posts.
Arriving in Reading from Sampdoria, Rafael earned his new club victory at Adams Park courtesy of a penalty shootout which saw the former Santos and Napoli stopper leap to his right to save from Nick Freeman and then hurl himself to the left to parry away Fred Onyedinma’s spotkick.
And he went from strength to strength between the sticks – stand-out saves included a triple-stop away at Fulham on New Year’s Day and an injury time reaction save to somehow deny QPR’s Jordan Hugill from point blank range and seal victory for the Royals on Boxing Day.
Over the course of his first campaign in England, Rafa kept 13 clean sheets and deservedly added his name to our Player of the Season roll of honour at the end of the season – following in the footsteps of former goalkeeping winners of the accolade, Steve Death, Mike Dixon, Peter Silvester, Steve Francis, Shaka Hislop, Adam Federici and Ali Al-Habsi.
He has added three more clean sheets to that tally already this season – with only four games played, he has shut out Derby County, Barnsley and a previously unbeaten Watford side so far in 2020-21.
In fact, Lee Tomlin is the only man to score past the Brazilian this season, scrambling a rebound past a helpless Rafael from a few yards out at the Cardiff City Stadium for a consolation goal for the Bluebirds.
Off the pitch, he has mastered the English language very quickly to become a very likeable character on and off the training ground. Congratulations Rafa! Here’s to the next 50!