“Rio can play for two or three years,” said Sir Alex Ferguson recently, playing down a row over Rio Ferdinand’s non-appearance in a Kick It Out t-shirt prior to Manchester United’s fixture with Stoke City. Ferguson may believe that 34-year-old Ferdinand can play into his late 30s, echoing the careers of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, but with just seven months to run on the central defender’s contract, United face the prospect of losing Ferdinand in the coming summer.
Neither side, it seems, is ready to blink in a game of contract chicken that could run for another six months before a resolution, one way or the other, is found.
Typical with United’s recent policy, a one-year contract extension is likely to be on the table should Ferdinand wish to extend a decade-long stay at Old Trafford. Ferdinand, meanwhile, must swallow pride, accept a reduced status and sacrifice long-term security, in addition to halving his £130,000 per week wages, if he is to stay at the club.
Hard on a man of Ferdinand’s lofty status of course, but this is a recipe now typically followed by leading clubs, including Chelsea who let Didier Drogba leave last summer, and face Ashley Cole’s departure in June 2013. Drogba desired a two-year deal with the west London club; Chelsea stood firm, for better or worse.
Behind the scenes briefing and counter has led to a rash of media stories, with many a leading broadsheet running with the defender’s apparent ‘reluctance’ to sign on at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand took to Twitter to lambaste press suggestions that he is ‘stalling’ on signing the new deal. Instead, Ferdinand claims, he will wait until after the Christmas programme to decide on his Old Trafford future.
“You just take every week and every month as it comes,” Ferdinand told Inside United.
“The best thing to do is look at it at Christmas, then again in the summer to see how I am feeling and go again from there. I think it has but I will have a better idea in December and January when the games start coming thick and fast. That’s when it really hits you, you know the hard work has to start and you begin to think about the home stretch. I will probably get a better gauge of where I am fitness-wise and the benefit of having the summer off then.”
In reality the debate is a little more nuanced, of course. While Ferdinand has no intention of quitting the game altogether, and has plenty of suitors away from Old Trafford, the defender will surely weigh up his many options should United come up short on the final offer. After all, while Ferdinand is player building for a prosperous future, with media and leisure business interests, he has spent no time in a fine career on the bench.
Different circumstances, of course, but should player and club reach stalemate it will not have been the first time Ferdinand has taken United to the brink over a new contract. Recall, if you will, summer 2005 when Ferdinand seemingly held United to ransom over a new deal – one that eventually took the Peckham-born player past £100,000-per-week in wages.
The affair, just months after the defender spent much of the previous campaign on the sidelines through suspension, brought jeers from the stands and long-running derision in a leading fanzine. After all, United stood by Ferdinand after an eight month ban was imposed by the Football Association for missing a random drugs test. So much for loyalty, Rio, cried the Stretford End.
Ferdinand’s star is neither so high, nor his value so great today. Injuries have reduced the player’s participation in Ferguson’s first team, although a long-standing back injury has proven far less stubborn over the past 18 months. Meanwhile, Ferguson has sought to recruit younger replacements in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, while Jonny Evans matures with each passing game.
Much like Scholes and Giggs, Ferdinand’s future participation in Ferguson’s thinking is guaranteed only by the fate of others. Smalling, Evans, and Jones will hasten the 34-year-old towards retirement should that cohort develop as planned. Injury, inconsistency and the ill-fortune or hampered development of others has come to Ferdinand’s aid to date.
Yet, Ferguson is apparently keen to retain the veteran’s services. “He has different issues from Giggs and Scholes in terms of injuries,” adds the 70-year-old Scot. “But his experience is important and there is no reason he can’t stay on.”
Which might beg the question why, if Ferdinand is fit, healthy and still in Ferguson’s planning, the club is unlikely to stretch further than a one-year extension. The Peckham-born defender could even point to United’s decision in 2005 to offer Giggs two years, rather than one.
It leaves United to wait on Ferdinand, and for the defender’s people to gamble on the player’s fitness and form. Offers from the United States, China and the Middle East may well come in – as could a romantic offer from West Ham United to return south. And in January Ferdinand will be free to negotiate with whomever he pleases.
Yet, somehow, if the past teaches us anything about Rio, it seems unlikely that the former Leeds United man will depart Old Trafford just yet. Somebody will surely blink first.