In the high octane life of Premier League, international and Champions League football mistakes are hard to hide from. For Rio Ferdinand, one of the most consistent defenders in Premier League history, recent high profile errors against Holland, Manchester City and Ukraine are more than a little unfortunate. Questions have been asked.
Ferdinand’s troubles stem not from any conspicuous degradation in the player’s quality. After all, the old clichéthat ‘form is temporary and class permanent’ still reigns true. Indeed, Ferdinand can rightly place himself in the very top echelon of world central defenders. But having missed around half of Manchester United and England’s last 50 games, Ferdinand’s ring-rustiness has shown through in recent months. It’s a worrying trend.
Connected to the player’s long-term back complaint, Ferdinand suffered thigh, calf and groin problems over the past year. The defender, 31 on 7 November, has regular osteopathic treatment on the back complaint that first surfaced at the FIFA World Club Cup last December. However, the problem is now one that requires ongoing management, and not a quick-fix solution. An issue that has become a long-term worry for club and country.
Ferdinand’s injures have caused Sir Alex Ferguson to chop-and-change his central defensive partnership over the past year, with both Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans also suffering injuries. While Evans has benefited and is growing into a top class defender in his own right, United has conceded more goals than usual this season. A team that allowed the opposition to score just 29 times in 38 Premier League games last season, has conceded eight in as many games this campaign.
At international level Fabio Capello, forced to use West Ham United’s Matthew Upson more often than he would like, is now under pressure to consider replacing Ferdinand permanently.
The former West Ham and Leeds defender’s damaging mistake against Ukraine, where Ferdinand played a significant part in Rob Green’s dismissal, has heightened the pressure on the player. Ferdinand’s mistake followed rapidly on the heels of a horrendous error against Holland in August. Then in September Ferdinand played a central role is two of Manchester City’s goals at Old Trafford.
But the England manager has been wholly supportive of his vice-captain, dismissing Ferdinand’s most recent error.
“He made one mistake during the game,” said the England manager said.
“It was a long ball. The ball bounced and he didn’t judge the direction of the ball well. But after that he played a game, like the other players. At this moment he probably makes some mistakes, but you cannot question his value.”
This is a sentiment echoed by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson but with an eye on the future. Indeed, Ferguson spoke recently of Evans value to the team.
“Jonny has been fantastic and it’s very difficult for me at the moment,” said Ferguson recently.
“I said to him last week that I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing sometimes in leaving him out because his performance level is so high. I feel like I’m being unfair to him.
“I think the only thing that justifies me leaving him out is the performance levels of my other centre-backs, Ferdinand and Vidic, and their experience.
“Jonny is still young and he has got a great future here. The time will come when I have to put him in.”
It’s a warning that Ferdinand must heed by getting and keeping himself fit. It’s only then that we’ll find out if the defender’s decline is a short term blip or something more permanent.