Tag Rio Ferdinand

Tag Rio Ferdinand

United’s finest: ‘Rolls Royce’ Rio retires

Ed May 31, 2015 Tags: Opinion 6 comments
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“Excellence,” wrote Greek philosopher Aristotle, “is an art won by training.” Indeed, this is a doctrine held true by many in the game for whom hard work and a little talent has brought ample reward. Rio Ferdinand trained hard too; a professional to the last. Yet, he also boasted such a natural elegance on the pitch that it was often hard to hard to tell where the work finished and the talent began.

It has been a career not without controversy, conflict or, on occasion, the unfair hand of the Football Association. He has been the subject of partizan vitriol, media scepticism and, latterly, terrace racism. And the third estate, so keen to lap up Steven Gerrard’s long walk to Los Angeles, has let Ferdinand slip into retirement with little fanfare. The Peckham-born defender may not want it any other way, retiring just weeks after his wife Rebecca died of cancer.

Ferdinand had many detractors over 12 years at Old Trafford too. The image of a flash Londoner was not always simpatico with local supporters, while poorly timed transfer negotiations following an eight month ban in 2004 drew the moniker ‘Wobbly-Gobbed Tosser’ from the pages of fanzine Red Issue.

Yet, he is also a player that should be remembered, at his zenith, as the best central defender on the planet. Made better for the partnership with Nemanja Vidic, United’s other outstanding centre-half. Critics be dammed. “Its hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world,” as Dolly Parton once mused.

“After 18 years as a professional footballer I now feel it’s the right time for me to retire from the game that I love,” said Ferdinand in a statement on Saturday. “As a 12-year-old boy, kicking around a football on the Friary Estate in Peckham, I never dreamt that I would play for my boyhood club West Ham, captain Leeds, or win the Champions League with Manchester United.

“Winning trophies over my 12 years at Manchester United allowed me to achieve everything I desired in football. None of that would have been possible, without the genius of one man, Sir Alex Ferguson. His greatest accomplishment in my eyes will always be how he developed us as men, not just as footballers. He will, in my opinion, always be the greatest manager in British football history.”

Ferdinand joined Ferguson’s squad from Leeds United in 2002, with the Whites on the precipice of financial meltdown. The fee included a basic sum of £20 million, with add-ons and agent fees taking the cost to more than £30 million. The defender made his debut alongside Laurent Blanc in United’s 5-0 demolition of Zalaegerszeg in the Champions League Second Qualifying Round and earned a Premier League winners medal the following May. The first of many trophies at United.

Always classy with the ball at his feet, Ferdinand had gained a reputation for switching off during 158 matches at West Ham United and 73 more at Leeds. More than 450 games for United later and that penchant for errors was almost entirely eradicated from his game.

Ferdinand’s transfer to United was five years in the making. Ferguson first spotted 17-year-old Ferdinand playing for a Bournemouth team managed by friend Mel Machin in 1997. The defender spent 10 games on the south coast, with the Hammers subsequently rejecting two United bids for the player.

By the time Ferdinand moved to Leeds, for a world record £18 million in 2000, Ferguson deployed Ronny Johnsen and Jaap Stam as the regular central defenders, with the youngster Wes Brown also making an impact on the squad. Three years later, Ferguson made a third, this time successful, bid and promised to make the 23-year-old “the best centre-half in the world.”

“I want to win things and I feel I can do that here,” said Ferdinand in July 2002. “In recent years they have dominated. Every year they buy players to show they want to continue that dominance. Everyone here is hungry for success. I haven’t won a championship and I want to do so. I know this is going to be a big challenge but want to prove my doubters wrong. I want to fulfil every bit of potential I have got.”

Ferdinand left Old Trafford in the summer of 2014 boasting six Premier League titles, three League Cups, an FA Cup, a Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, six Community Shields and the FIFA Club World Cup. Potential fulfilled over an outstanding career.

Ferdinand has not always enjoyed the good times at United. Little more than a year after his arrival the player failed to attend a routine drug test. Despite being familiar with the routines of drug testing, Ferdinand left United’s training ground at Carrington for a shopping session in town, missing his slot and only later attempting to correct the mistake. The FA Disciplinary Committee imposed an eight-month ban and a £50,000 fine, with the player missing much of the 2003/4 season and Euro 2004.

It is an episode that still reflects poorly on the player, for failing to attend, the club, for not keeping closer tabs on a £30 million asset, and the FA’s drug-testers for dogmatically refusing to allow Ferdinand to take his test later that day. Indeed, the player took and passed a test the following day, with an offer for a hair follicle exam turned down by the FA. The triumph of process over common sense.

Years later Ferguson wrote that his “indignation endures to this day” after the testers failed to “do their job” and the FA handed down a “brutal punishment” to the defender. Not least because the FA committee failed to accept any mitigation, including the case of Manchester City’s Christian Negouai who was fined just £2,000 for missing a test the season previously.

The politicisation of the case did not help, with both FIFA President Sepp Blatter and World Anti-Doping Agency seeking a longer punishment despite the seemingly innocent nature of Ferdinand’s error.

It was an episode that also precipitated the degradation in the player’s relationship with United’s supporters. Rio’s return to Ferguson’s side the following autumn coincided with an extended period of contract negotiation – a time in which the player was photographed at a London restaurant with then Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon. “I was never a part of that meeting. I bumped into my agent and he was sat with Peter Kenyon. It was literally just a case of me popping in to say hello,” Rio would later claim. Not all supporters believed an innocent motive.

Still, with a crucial goal at Anfield in January 2006, a new five-year contract signed in 2008 and an outstanding partnership developed with Vidic, Ferdinand eventually won back all but the most steadfast Old Trafford critic. In the period from 2006 to 2009 Ferdinand and Vidic formed the most formidable central defensive pairing in world football. Rio’s pace, outstanding intuitive reading of the game and comfort on the ball superbly complemented Vidic’s darker arts. It is a period that cemented Ferdinand’s reputation as one of United’s finest ever.

“He was a great player, without a doubt the best centre-half I ever played with,” said Paul Scholes this week. “For a time as well he was the best centre-half in the world. He was such a pleasure to play with. To play in front of him, he made your job so easy.”

In subsequent years injury and then age restricted Ferdinand’s appearances for Ferguson’s side and the defender became increasingly frustrated with life as a part-time player under David Moyes.

Meanwhile, on the international stage, Rio’s love for England was never quite as firmly reciprocated, despite the player’s 81 caps. In all he missed four tournaments: Euro 2000, Euro 2004, Euro 2008 – when England failed to qualify – and Euro 2012. The FA’s handling of the 2004 ban and, later, Fabio Capello’s controversial decision to sack Ferdinand as captain in favour of the racist John Terry still rankles with the player and supporters.

None of it diminishes Ferdinand’s standing as the nation’s finest defender of the past generation.

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Ferdinand timeline

  • 1995: Turns professional with West Ham
  • 1996: Makes West Ham debut against Sheffield Wednesday
  • 1997: Makes England debut against Cameroon at Wembley
  • 1998: Unused player in England’s World Cup squad for France ’98
  • 2000: Not included in England squad for Euro 2000; makes £18 million transfer to Leeds
  • 2002: Joins United for £30 million
  • 2003: Wins first Premier League title; receives eight-month ban and £50,000 fine
  • 2004: Misses Euro 2004 through suspension
  • 2005: Agrees new four-year deal with United after lengthy negotiations
  • 2008: Captains England for the first time; captains United to Champions League victory over Chelsea in Moscow
  • 2009: Secures third successive Premier League title; part of side that loses to Barcelona in the Champions League final
  • 2010: Succeeds John Terry as England captain, but is ruled out of the World Cup with injury
  • 2011: Loses England captaincy to Terry; wins fifth Premier League title with United; United lose 3-1 to Barça in Champions League final at Wembley
  • 2012: Left out of England’s squad for Euro 2012
  • 2013: Announces retirement from England duty
  • 2014: Leaves United after 12 years at the club

Rio: My Decade as a Red

Ed August 1, 2013 Tags: Shorts 25 comments
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There have been times over the past decade when Rio Ferdinand seemed destined for anything but a lengthy stay at Old Trafford. It has been a journey from a £30 million transfer in July 2002, through a controversial ban and subsequent contract re-negotiation, to genuine – well almost – respect on the terraces. After all, while the Londoner’s way  has not always found favour among the faithful, he has absolutely been Manchester United’s finest defender for 10 years or more.

Time flies and Ferdinand’s run at United is drawing to a close with presumably one final campaign ahead of retirement or a more to lucrative pastures in the United States. With the winter of Rio’s career comes the commercial realities – a testimonial in Manchester this August – and a book reviewing the defender’s time as a Red.

Rio: My Decade as a Red

Rio: My Decade as a Red, published by Bonnier Books in hardback on 9 August, coincides with Ferdinand’s testimonial against Sevilla at Old Trafford. The Spanish outfit faces David Moyes’ side just 48 hours ahead of the Community Shield at Wembley.

The book contains more than 200 images, telling Rio’s story from the early days at West Ham United and Leeds United, to an in-depth focus on his time at United. It covers Ferdinand’s United days season-by-season, from Rio’s first Premier League title triumph in 2003, to the Champions League success in 2007-08, climaxing with the defender’s last-gasp match-winning goal in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final home game as manager.

It has certainly been a ride. And Ranters can win a signed copy by answering this simple question in the comments section below:

Who did Rio make his United debut against in 2002?

Rio: My Decade as a Red is available online and from bookstores from August 9

Ferdinand goes back to the future over contract extension

Ed November 14, 2012 Tags: Opinion 15 comments

“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.

Ferguson’s Ferdinand folly

Ed October 21, 2012 Tags: Opinion 45 comments

There was a period, for some considerable time in fact, that United Rant carried a ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ graphic on the site’s front page. In the intervening years both Rant, and Kick it Out (KIO) have undergone brand redesign. But if the graphic was lost by accident, then the spotlight placed on the organisation by Rio Ferdinand and others this weekend is anything but happenstance.

Ferdinand’s decision to refuse KIO’s ‘one game. one community’ t-shirt during Manchester United’s warm-up ahead of Saturday’s fixture with Stoke City brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s considerable ire. The organisation had asked, via the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), that all players wear the shirt this weekend, or next, as part of an annual week of action.

Ferdinand’s refusal is a pointed, though, with the 33-year-old defender reportedly angry at KIO’s limp response to John Terry’s four-match ban for racially abusing brother Anton.

More than provoking one Scotsman’s anger, Ferdinand’s choice has once again raised the debate not only about racism in the English game, but how to deal with it. Terry’s ban is widely thought to be lenient given the crime’s severity, with the Londoner found to have racially abused the younger Ferdinand in calling the defender a “f*cking black c*nt”.

Moreover, KIO’s response has been so tepid that Ferdinand and other black players who refused to wear the ‘one game’ t-shirt this weekend now feel the organisation’s position is fatally compromised. After all, KIO’s refusal to condemn the leniency shown to Terry, who continued to play for England throughout the 11-month saga, comes within the context of the group’s funding – more than £330,000 of a £450,000 annual budget is provided by the FA and Premier League.

The anger may well be better directed at the perpetrators of racism, but there is no doubt that the Ferdinand brothers, Joleon Lescot, Reading striker Jason Roberts, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Djibril Cisse, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, Junior Hoilett and others feel let down by KIO in recent months. It is an organisation unprepared to bite the hand that feeds it.

Yet, there are those ready to speak up, including Roberts who recently Tweeted that people expecting black players to “‘to put up with it’” will find “thosedays are gone. We DEMAND to be treated with respect, we are not asking.”

Ferguson is having none of it though, with the Scot promising gathered media last Friday that his players would wear the KIO shirt – presumably before checking with his squad. In that Ferguson believes that Ferdinand’s snub is as much directed at the 70-year-old United manager as it is for KIO.

No surprise then that Ferguson’s unilateral promise was followed up with an outburst of genuine anger at Ferdinand on Saturday evening, and an implicit threat towards the central defender.

“He will be dealt with, no doubt about that,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“I’m disappointed with Rio for not wearing the t-shirt. It’s an embarrassment for me. I’m very disappointed because I said in the press conference the players would be wearing it. We’re all wearing the badges and he goes and lets us down. But we’ll deal with it, don’t worry.”

Indeed, the Sun reported on Sunday that Ferguson will fine his player £220,000 – two week’s wages – for the protest. The coincidence in Terry paying the very same amount in fines for his racial slur is unpleasant. Whether United can impose the fine under the terms of Ferdinand’s contract is one question; why Ferdinand, who is out of contract in June 2013, would choose to stay at Old Trafford in those circumstances, is another.

In any case, one suspects Ferguson’s real anger is not in the protest per se, but in a perceived defiance.

Yet, Ferdinand has received support, both from PFA Chair Clarke Carlisle, and Piara Powar, director of European anti-racism body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).

“We will make sure Rio Ferdinand’s rights as a human being, never mind as a footballer, aren’t undermined in this,” promised York defender Carlisle.

“Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt. There are two sides to this one. First of all, Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the Kick It Out campaign, which is commendable, but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand.

“I would sincerely hope that Ferguson now speaks with Rio Ferdinand, asks him why he wanted to make that stand and hopefully supports the position he is in and it isn’t seen as a player-against-manager situation.”

What contrast between Ferguson’s reaction and that of Reading manager Brian McDermott, with the 51-year-old mature in his support for Roberts’ stance. The very same striker who came under heavy fire from Ferguson on Friday, with United’s manager labeling Roberts a “sheep” that had “wandered off course”

“Jason had his view and it was very strong view,” retorted former Arsenal player McDermott. “We spoke on Friday and I totally respect [Robert’s] view. It was important for him to do what he did today. I one hundred per cent back him.”

Meanwhile, Powar – once a director at KIO – pointedly said via Twitter that “on this weekend of counter-protest some people still don’t get it. Old-skool racists, administrators and ‘leaders’ all still struggling.”

In that Powar is less than opaque in his criticism of Ferguson. The Scot’s support for KIO is manifest, but his understanding of the debate’s nuances is seemingly poor. After all, while Ferguson is keen that the “sheep” stay in line, coerced unity is no confederation of the willing at all.

To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, in matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. In that there is an essential truth. Ferdinand’s stance is both genuine and sound, no matter how unpopular it is in Old Trafford’s hierarchy.

After all, there is no mutual exclusivity between directing anger at those whom perpetrate racism, and those who now do too little to eliminate it from the game. The majority may have worn KIO’s t-shirt this weekend. For those that did not, it is an organisation with much to prove.

Ferdinand’s dignified silence in the face of Hodgson’s “total lack of respect”

Ed June 4, 2012 Tags: , , , , International, Opinion 64 comments

On the Thames this past Sunday more than 1,000 boats, canoes and ships followed the Queen’s gold-adorned barge from Battersea to Tower Bridge in the first mass flotilla on London’s artery for more than 300 years. The outpouring of national pride and ubiquitous presence of the Union Flag, so infrequently displayed on these shores, was more akin to a sporting contest, than a Monarch’s anniversary.

As ever – for this is a British summer after all – the weather threatened to spoil the occasion, which had been planned, by some, for months if not years. Despite the autumnal weather, driving rain, and high tide none of the throng is believed to have sunk.

It’s hard to draw the same conclusion about the Football Association’s public relations department though, which is going down without a trace this summer. Not so much light drizzle at FA HQ, but a force 10 gale.

First, the FA bungled its decision to strip John Terry of the England team captaincy this summer; attempting to strike a balance between accepting a man’s innocent until proven otherwise, and protecting the national game’s already tarnished image. The governing body did neither, fudging the only acceptable decision, which was to leave Terry at home while the criminal case surrounding the Chelsea captain’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand was concluded.

Worse still, in ‘protecting’ Terry the FA has run roughshod over 81-cap Rio Ferdinand – a player, who despite an unprecedented FA ban and national team exclusion for missing a mandatory drugs test in 2003, has given everything and more for the national shirt. Plenty of Manchester United supporters have little love to lose for England, and indeed the player’s international career could have come to an end earlier, but Ferdinand has never hidden his passion for the Three Lions.

Yet, when Ferdinand was unexpectedly not selected for England’s European Championship squad on the ill-hidden pretence of “football reasons” the defender held his tongue with a dignified silence. Few players with Ferdinand’s global media appeal, and huge audience, would have refrained from hitting the tabloids.

There seemed little justification for the omission on any grounds, least of all quality or fitness. After all, having played in each of of United’s last 16 Premier League matches in the season just finished – and been an outstanding performer to boot – there was little reason to believe Ferdinand had not earned his place in Hodgson’s side, let alone squad. Four games in 13 days over Easter proved Ferdinand’s ability to complete several matches in a short time-frame, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson’s observation to the contrary.

Indeed, while many excluded players had already departed on summer holidays to popular footballers’ destinations such as Aya Napa, Miami Beach and the Gulf, Ferdinand has been training. Hard. The 33-year-old former West Ham United defender even played in Park Ji-Sung’s charity match in Bangkok, while maintaining championship levels of fitness.

The insult of being excluded from Hodgson’s initial squad was compounded on Sunday when Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, injured against Belgium during England’s tedious 1-0 win at Wembley on Saturday, was ruled out of the Championships with a broken jaw. Would Ferdinand be called up as an experienced alternative? Not a chance, with Hodgson instead selecting Liverpool’s reserve right-back Martin Kelly. A fine player though the 22-year-old may become, Kelly started just 10 Premier League games in the past season and has just two minutes international experience.

“Football reasons,” Hodgson had stated. “What reasons????!!!” retorted Ferdinand on Twitter, Sunday evening. And there was little surprise that the Ferdinand camp, although not the player, finally broke its silence following the latest snub. Enough was apparently, and finally, enough.

“Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all ageing but they go to the tournament. Why is Rio different?” asked former Millwall midfielder, and Rio’s representative,Jamie Moralee. “To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times in this manner is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and the FA as far as I am concerned.”

After all few now believe that Ferdinand has become anything bar the sacrificial lamb to protect Terry’s place in the England set-up. Rio dropped, essentially, for being the Anton’s brother. Race will play a key role in England’s team this summer after all.

And let there be no mistake that this was, on some level, Ferdinand’s decision – the United defender has always been willing to work with Terry despite the obvious enmity between the pair. In that there is no little disgrace; Ferdinand the martyr for Terry’s continued presence in the national side.

There could be long-term consequences in the FA’s stance though. After all, should the case go against 30-year-old Terry when court proceedings reconvene on 9 July England’s campaign will be forever be associated with a criminally guilty racist. Whether Terry is captain, or not.

In that scenario heads must surely roll at the FA. Perhaps even Hodgson’s. After all the former Liverpool manager, together with FA Chairman David Bernstein, have bet their chips on Terry in the face of national and global incredulity at Ferdinand’s omission.

Hodgson’s insistence – both in public and in a private phone call with the United defender – that football alone dictates the make-up of the national squad now flies in the face of common sense, and Ferdinand’s intelligence. Lingering suspicion of a conspiracy was all but confirmed with Kelly’s call-up on Sunday.

If the FA thought that stripping Terry of the captaincy would remove the focus on the Chelsea player’s upcoming court case then Ferdinand’s treatment has only intensified the spotlight. Indeed, Hodgson’s techy response to questions about Ferdinand’s omission when the England squad was announced in May will ill-become the 64-year-old coach during Euro 2012. But questions Hodgson will face, especially if Terry performs his usual tournament trick of being caught horribly out-of-position against any reasonably mobile or technical opponent.

Few United supporters will feel any sympathy for Hodgson though; this managerial crisis is of the coach’s own making.

Sprightly Rio dancing towards new deal

Ed March 26, 2012 Tags: Opinion 6 comments

Rio Ferdinand is set to be offered a new contract with Manchester United after the 34-year-old defender finally overcame three years of injury trouble to once again become a key part of the Reds’ title charge this season. The former West Ham United defender had been expected to leave Old Trafford after nearly a decade at the club that has been increasing bedevilled by a persistence back problem. Yet, with captain Nemanja Vidić absent since injuring his left cruciate knee ligament in December, Ferdinand has re-staked a claim to be United’s senior defender.

But Ferdinand’s increased importance to United this season was not the obvious conclusion to be drawn as the campaign began, with Phil Jones signed from Blackburn Rovers at £16.5 million, Chris Smalling having enjoyed a fruitful début season, and Ferguson’s faith in Jonny Evans undiminished despite the Irishman’s many critics. Indeed, the senior man’s availability was widely known last summer, with United’s bean counters keen to offload high-earning fringe players.

Yet, Vidić’s serious injury – and Ferdinand’s greater fitness – ensured the £30 million signing from Leeds United has appeared in 29 games this season; just four less than, for example, Wayne Rooney. It is a good record for a player who turned out just 49 times over the past two campaigns combined.

Perhaps Ferguson’s November insistence that not only had Rio “lost a yard of pace” but must “rearrange his game a little bit” had the desired effect as a newly refocused Ferdinand built a sustained and successful partnership with Evans over the past three months. Certainly the United manager offered no surprise at Ferdinand’s improved form and fitness this season.

“It’s not surprised me in the sense that he’s still young for a centre-back,” said the 70-year-old coach.

“In normal terms you would expect a centre-back with his athleticism to play well into their thirties anyway. But he had the back problem which we all know about. So we’ve had to manage that and by managing it properly he has adapted really well to it.

“If you look to the other week – I didn’t want to play him against Bilbao, but with Jones calling off with flu, I played him and he played on the Sunday also. So he’s adapting really well to the challenge of making sure he is fit and fresh to play in the games we need him. I think it’s all down to how he feels physically and what he is doing at the moment is good. He has no issues at all. I think from time to time he gets the odd tweak in his back and we have to manage it and look after it.”

The question, of course, is how long Ferdinand can sustain a permanent place in Ferguson’s side as Jones, Smalling and Evans push for a permanent starting berth next season. Vidić’s expected summer return to fitness will compliment Evan’s outstanding recent form. Meanwhile, the impending capture of Crystal Palace right-back Nathaniel Clyne should mean that Smalling and Jones are used more frequently in the centre.

Unless Ferguson plans more rotation in central defence – an area of the pitch that managers, even the Scot, are normally loathe to tinker with – then something has to give.

Indeed, while Ferdinand will be an important plank of United’s title defence over the next two months, especially with the Reds playing no more than once a week, the veteran defender’s status at Old Trafford is likely to change. Reports that Ferdinand will be offered a substantial pay cut on the £120,000 per week deal he currently enjoys is unlikely to be wide of the mark. Ferdinand’s current deal runs to 2013, but United will bet that the additional security of a two-year contract is appealing.

However, there are drivers than may yet see Ferdinand leave in the coming summer, with riches available in Russia, China, the Middle East and, perhaps, the United States. Certainly, there is one school of thought that ‘brand Ferdinand’ was ready to explore a move to MLS last summer, with Ferguson ready to let the defender go.

Moreover, while Ferdinand is reluctant to make any irrevocable decisions about his international future, pressure will certainly be brought to bear on the player to end his involvement with England. It is a scenario the Peckham-born player has shown no enthusiasm for, but one Ferguson would certainly embrace.

But the Scot’s tune appears to have changed in recent months, precipitated perhaps by a limited summer budget. United’s capture of Clyne in the coming summer, for example, is believed to be budget related, with the Palace defender out-of-contract. Rumours that Ferguson was keen to seal the defender’s signature far earlier have standing. Meanwhile, what funds that are available pre-IPO are likely to be earmarked for a midfielder and a striker during the coming window.

Rather than viewing Rio as expendable, as the Scot once did, Ferguson is now talking up Ferdinand’s experience in the United dressing room.

“I keep thinking that I signed Rio three or four years ago – I forget he’s been here for almost 10 years,” adds Ferguson.

“He has taken on that role of the influential person in the dressing room. He’s great in the dressing room with the players. He’s brilliant. It is an advantage if you can keep the older players long enough for their influence to spread because in the modern game it’s difficult to keep players for more than five or six years. It’s not easy but the longer they stay here the better the influence spreads to them and they can take over from the older players as they disappear.”

With both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs also likely to be retained next season, Ferdinand – if he remains at Old Trafford – will form an increasingly ageing spine in the United squad. Valuable experience, or Glazernomics at work. Critics will argue both sides of that equation.

Has Ferdinand earned a new contract?

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Jones’ class places Rio under real pressure

Ed August 23, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 19 comments

“This result tells you that we still believe in youth,” Sir Alex Ferguson said of the young side that beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 at Old Trafford on Monday night. And with the Scot’s young, English, lions – Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones – performing with electrifying confidence so early in the season the 69-year-old Manchester United manager has more reason to believe the statement more than most.

The aforementioned quartet is leading an increasingly youthful evolution at Old Trafford this season, which also includes, at just 20, the da Silva brothers, together with 23-year-olds Javier Hernández, Jonny Evans and Anderson. Yet it the youngest of the group, Jones, that arguably stole the show against Spurs with a performance of remarkably classy maturity.

Indeed, such have been the 19-year-old’s performances in Red this season that injured Rio Ferdinand faces a greater challenge to an automatic place in Ferguson’s side than at any point in nearly a decade at Old Trafford. And while Ferdinand could make Ferguson’s side for Arsenal’s visit to Manchester next weekend, the Londoner is surely now fully aware of the alternate talent available to Ferguson.

Ferdinand’s injury has come at an inopportune time of course, so early in the season and with Jones hardly settled at his new club following the £16.5 million move from Blackburn Rovers this summer. Yet, with outstanding performances against both Spurs on Monday, West Bromwich Albion last weekend and for 45 minutes during the Community Shield, Jones has slotted seamlessly into the ‘United way’. The teenager has, it seems, been at the club not two months but a couple of decades.

The player’s arrival at Old Trafford has been a long time coming though, with Ferguson having settled on the England Under-21 international following Blackburn’s 7-1 hammering in Manchester last season. The game was perhaps a strange stage on which to earn a move to Old Trafford but tough times do true characters make.

“When Blackburn lost the fifth goal, he was out giving them [team-mates] all stick,” Ferguson said.

“He was just one of those players you couldn’t miss when one comes along in the game. We made enquiries in November and were hoping to get him in January but we were prepared to wait. He is an absolutely fantastic young player.”

Ferguson’s is a sentiment echoed by supporters at Old Trafford on Monday, who witnessed not only a mature performance from the Preston-born defender but a genuine air of authority. It is a cliché of course but less than three games into a United career and Jones is already marked as leadership material for club and country. The maturity with which he handled not only his personal performance but media commitments with Sky following United’s victory on Monday night said much for the player’s temperament.

The 19-year-old is close to a full England cap too. After all, Ferdinand’s injury has potentially opened up a space in Fabio Capello’s squad for forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria in Sofia on 2 September and then four days later against the Welsh at Wembley. That each of the Premier League’s top six lodged bids for Jones is all Capello needed to know of the player’s class before calling the teenager into the England squad for the aborted friendly with Holland earlier this month.

Indeed, Jones was one of few that returned home with any credit from England Under-21s disastrous European Championship performance in the past summer. Chris Smalling made the tournament’s all-star team but Cleverley, so bright in central midfield for United this season, looked lost on Stuart Pearce’s right-wing.

In fact Jones’ class has already drawn lofty comparisons, with 1968 European Cup winning midfielder Paddy Crerand claiming more than a hint of a famous Busby Babe. “If you talk to Bobby Charlton, Phil Jones reminds him of Duncan Edwards with his power and build,” says Crerand, who regularly commentates on United’s youth and reserve games for MUTV.

The plaudit is unlikely to phase the level-headed 19-year-old Jones, whose rise is remarkable not only for the quality of his game but for the lack of genuine experience; the player has appeared in less than 50 club games for United and Blackburn combined, in addition to nine Under-21 caps.

Yet, such is Jones’ obvious seamless transition to United’s team that it will surprise few if the defender has supplanted Ferdinand not only in the England side but Ferguson’s by the season’s end. The latter’s poor injury record may accelerate a changing of the guard, with captain Nemanja Vidic a certain starter, injury permitting.

“I’ve always said I aspire to follow the likes of John Terry, Michael Dawson and Rio Ferdinand. I always watch what they do and try and learn from them,” said Jones when he joined United in June. When it comes to performing for club and country, Ferdinand may well have cause to hope the protégé doesn’t learn too fast.

Ferdinand ready to fight ticking clock

Ed July 22, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand is facing up to the autumn of his career, with three young central defenders ready to challenge the 32-year-old for a place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. But, says Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and new signing Phil Jones will have to prove they are hungrier than the Peckham-born defender to do so.

Indeed, with fitness issues a concern for Ferdinand over the past three seasons there are no guarantees that the England defender will finish the coming campaign as Ferguson’s first choice to partner Nemanja Vidic. The former Leeds United player will surely begin the campaign alongside club captain Vidic, but with Smalling outstanding in his début campaign, £16 million Jones desperate to play and Evans with plenty to prove, competition for defensive places is strong than ever at Old Trafford.

Yet Ferdinand has a warning for United’s younger defenders, challenging Smalling, Jones and Evans to show the kind of desire that has taken the Londoner to the top of the world game.

“I remember what I was like when I was young,” Ferdinand told reporters on United’s US tour.

“I remember looking up at Slaven Bilic, Marc Rieper, Alvin Martin and Steve Potts at West Ham. I was only a kid but I used to sit on the bench and think I should be playing. I am sure these guys think the same thing. If they have got anything about them they should.

“They are all talented footballers and, I believe, Manchester United players. At some point I am sure they will take over the reins. But I am competitive and I don’t want to be giving up my position to anybody. My task is to prove I am hungrier than them.

“They can’t be in awe of me. If they are, they will get shipped out. That is the way it is. Your desire has to be to play. I understand and respect that. That is why they are here.”

The club’s concern with Ferdinand – the reason the 32-year-old is not club captain – is, of course, the defender’s ongoing fitness problems. After all, Ferdinand has not started 30 Premier League games for United in three years, with ongoing back problems having threatened to curtail the player’s career. Indeed, a feeling that United was prepared to sell enticed Tottenham Hotspur to bid for the defender last summer.

Yet Ferdinand claims that the back problem, which ruined most of the player’s 2009/10 campaign, is no longer an issue, although a calf injury robbed United of the defender for a large part of last season.

“My fitness is OK. I am nowhere near where I want to be yet but we have three weeks left,” added Ferdinand.

“Last season, I had no problems with my back, which was a good thing, but I did pull my calf which kept me out for a chunk of the year. Hopefully this time around I won’t have anything like that and I can continue to play a consistent amount of games.”

Despite ongoing concerns Ferdinand will remain key to United’s chances of success on the domestic and European fronts in the coming season. With inexperienced back-up in central positions and the da Silva brothers barely out of their teens, Ferdinand’s maturity means the former West Ham United player is likely to be rotated only for those games where Ferguson typically does so; against mid- to-lower table opposition.

But Ferguson will also be concerned that Smalling, who played 33 games for United last season, Evans and Jones all play enough football. The United manager’s revelation this week that Jones sought assurances on the subject before joining in June is telling. The £16 million former Blackburn Rovers player started 26 Premier League games for the Lancashire club last season, seven more than Ferdinand for United.

The United manager will use pre-season as a barometer for both Jones’ talent and the youngster’s ability to handle the pressure of being a United player. After all, Smalling’s excellent début season was predicated not solely on strong performances but 21-year-old’s ability to remain cool under pressure. Jones’ apparent maturity well beyond his years will surely serve the 19-year-old well.

“Over the years this club has been very successful. In the last couple of years we have won trophies as well. It is great to see but it does bring pressure,” adds Ferdinand.

“It is not overwhelming though. It is part of being a Manchester United player. You have to deal with all that stuff. It separates you from being a Manchester United player and not.”

Entering his 10th season as a United player Ferdinand has more than met that challenge. Smalling, meanwhile, has offered a promising start to his United career just as Evans’ future becomes a matter for debate. Jones’ biggest tests are yet to come.

Should Ferdinand once again show signs of age the trio will be more than willing to step into the elder-statesman’s boots.

Reds put boot in on Blues ahead of semi

Ed April 14, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 17 comments

There’s nothing quite like kicking on old foe when he’s down; a habit doing the rounds at Old Trafford it seems, with key defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand cranking up the pressure ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final. Indeed, with Ferdinand claiming City’s sulking players would never make it at Old Trafford, and Vidic mocking the Blues’ desperation for a trophy, United’s finest have been unusually vocal during the build up to the big match.

Yet, there is more than a little truth to the pair’s comments this week. After all it is now more than 35 years since City’s last trophy – the 1976 League Cup – and with more than £150 million spent in the transfer market since Abu Dhabi’s takeover, silverware is long overdue.

Should City fail to lift the FA Cup or qualify for the Champions league – or possibly both – Roberto Mancini will almost certainly be out of a job come May. The Italian might well be anyway, with his squad in near riotous mutiny at times this season. James Milner’s tantrum on Monday night only served to highlight a growing problem at the Eastlands club, according to some observers.

It’s a crucial difference between United and City, says Ferdinand.

“You don’t see anyone come off the pitch shaking their head or being disgruntled or sitting on the bench in a sulk at this club,” said Ferdinand of City’s off-the-pitch troubles this season.

“That’s because everyone is delighted to play for this club and they all want to be here. The moment you show a bit of dissent like that, the manager pulls rank, and rightly so. It keeps people on their toes. People want to play here, they don’t want to be part of any other squad, and that’s the way it is at United.

“It comes out of respect for the manager, the club itself and the people who are here before you and present as well. There’s an unwritten rule here. You see it in the changing-room before games – there are no cliques. Players are wishing each other well before games, even if someone else is playing in your position. That’s just the way we are.”

But Ferdinand says nobody at United is taking Saturday’s semi for granted despite City’s heavy loss to Liverpool on Monday night. Indeed, even if former Red Carlos Tevez is out of the tie due to a hamstring injury, City can call on more than £50 million of forward talent in Mario Ballotelli and Edin Dzeko.

“We need to make sure we put the bad result they had against Liverpool out of the equation and treat it like any other game,” adds Ferdinand, who has returned to full fitness in time for the season’s dénouement.

“City have invested heavily in a lot of players so they’ve got a lot of talented players to come in [if Carlos Tevez is injured]. You don’t spend £27 million on a player who is average. Edin Dzeko is a good player, he’s played Champions League football for a few years, he’s won the league in Germany, so he’s a good player. We won’t be underestimating City.”

It is this heavy spending, allied with United’s excellent position in both Premier and Champions Leagues that means the pressure is heaped on City this weekend, according to captain Vidic. With many pundits predicting that City and not United would mount a title challenge this season, Mancini must deliver on last season’s promise to “tear down” the Stretford End banner than mocks City’s long run without silverware.

“Manchester City have an obsession about winning a trophy,” Vidic told the Daily Telegraph.

“After the big money they have spent, they want to win their first trophy. In the last few years we have had a lot of success. We have always been in quarter-finals, semi-finals, two Champions League finals. We are playing at the top level. Every team wants to do their best against us. But we will be ready.

“We don’t want to be arrogant or think we are the specials. We are just trying to do our best. Manchester City will be a very difficult game but a few players haven’t won the FA Cup, myself included, and we are hungry to achieve it.”

United supporters will take heart in Vidic’s words, even if the FA Cup surely Ferguson’s lowest priority during the run-in. This is especially true given the packed Premier and Champions League schedule over the next month. However, with Ferdinand, Vidic and a number of other United stars having missed out on a cup final win – United hasn’t emerged victorious in the showpiece since beating Millwall 2004 – there remains a hunger to win.

It’s a fact that gives Saturday’s fixture an extra edge and one that may just colour Ferguson’s thinking. In recent cup semi-finals the United manager has heavily rotated, especially in the 2009 loss to Everton in which Ferguson selected several fringe squad members. However, last season’s Carling Cup semi with City saw Ferguson deploy his strongest line-up. It’s a fact supporters will draw on ahead of Saturday’s match at Wembley.

Now Ferdinand’s England career should come to an end

Ed March 21, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 92 comments

Rio Ferdinand’s humiliation at the hands of Fabio Capello this week is not only total and deliberate but it should also lead to the 32-year-old defender’s international retirement. After all, Ferdinand’s pride at being made England captain in the wake of John Terry’s affair with Vanessa Perroncel has been shattered at the hand of Capello’s boorish mismanagement. Publicly defenestrated with no just cause, Ferdinand can now achieve little by remaining with the national team.

Capello’s decision to return the England captaincy to John Terry after “a year of punishment” – as the Italian put it – is not only deeply insensitive but threatens to split the England camp. Not every player under Capello’s management, it is said, shares the former AC Milan coach’s predilection for Terry’s peculiarly British form of captaincy.

“One year is enough punishment for anyone,” Capello said on Friday.

“In that time, Terry has come to understand the mistake he made. And I have come to understand the importance of the England captain in this country. Now is time to forgive. From the moment I came in, he was always my number one choice as captain.”

Yet, the crass manner in which the news was leaked to the media without so much as a phone call to the now former England captain is seemingly typical of Capello’s bumbling handling of the England team. That the manager first failed to inform each party of his decision before telling journalists – and as it turns out lying to Ferdinand over the permanent nature of the switch – is grounds for dismissal in itself. It can do little to foster a camp spirit that will take England beyond the severe technical limitations inherent in the squad.

It begs the question of what Ferdinand is likely to gain by adding to his 80 caps in a subservient position to Terry, and under Capello’s unique leadership. England, drawn in a favourable group for Euro 2014 qualification, will surely reach the tournament in Poland and Ukraine only to be knocked out of the tournament at the hands of the first decent outfit it faces. The truth of this predication was amply demonstrated last summer in South Africa – a tournament that Ferdinand was retrospectively fortunate to miss.

Even more importantly Ferdinand should now consider his place in the Manchester United squad as his priority. Indeed, Ferdinand’s position at Old Trafford is devalued by persistent injuries over the past two years. Now into his 30s and beset by ongoing physical problems, Ferdinand would surely do well to follow the lead set by Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Park Ji-Sung in retiring from the international game. After all, retirement has prolonged the United careers of Scholes and Giggs, and prompted the best campaign of Berbatov’s time at Old Trafford.

Predictably, Sir Alex Ferguson refused to be drawn on the issue when meeting the media at Carrington on Thursday morning. Privately, it is seemingly inconceivable that the 69-year-old United manager will not have raised the spectre of international retirement with Ferdinand.

And while some elements of the nation’s media might position an early retirement as ‘throwing his toys out of the pram’ Ferdinand is well within the bounds of reason to no longer work with Capello on principal alone. Indeed, the former West Ham United player is reportedly deeply insulted with the Italian coaches actions – as he should be.

Yet, far from apologise for his handling of a delicate matter Capello has – quite unbelievably – chosen to lay the blame at Ferdinand’s door, accusing the United defender of not meeting his at Old Trafford following the Reds’ victory over Marseille last Tuesday. It was a meeting that was never formally arranged, according to the player. It’s not for the first time Capello has played fast and loose with the truth some might add.

This, of course, is Capello all over. The man who, under pressure during the World Cup, turned the England hotel into a monkish prison camp, heaping pressure on his players. Capello also chose the post World Cup period to launch another crass invention – the ‘Capello Index’ in which the Italian would publicly rate and slate his players. Then, in a crime perhaps on a par with his humiliation of Ferdinand this week, the coach ‘retired’ David Beckham to the nation’s media without consulting the player himself.

Ferguson would never treat a player in this matter – at least not one that mattered to him. And that is an important point. Capello is not blessed with a swathe of proven defenders in Ferdinand’s class. Indeed, Terry has been repeatedly exposed at international lever, no matter how forceful the British Bulldog bluster.

This fact offers Ferdinand the opportunity to leave the international game with his pride and dignity intact, head held high, self-esteem stronger than ever. The Londoner has fought to build his reputation both as a respected member of the footballing community and a campaigner. For his many faults and mistakes, Ferdinand is worth more than the lack of respect shown by Capello this week.