Sir Alex Ferguson has rejected criticism of Rio Ferdinand and suggested that the defender is playing through injuries for Manchester United. Ferdinand, who has made a series of costly errors in recent weeks, will miss United’s Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow tonight with a recurring calf injury.
“There’s no discernible depreciation in Rio’s qualities, none for me at all,” Ferguson said ahead of United’s group B tie where a win will seal qualification for the knock out stages of the competition.
“In my time here we’ve always had the situation where one of the star players hits a little blip,” Ferguson added.
“Rio is going to get criticism but that’s part and parcel of being a Manchester United player and we are all aware of that. With Rio it’s quite simple. No one likes to be criticised. They all like to be loved and have arms round their shoulders at times but he will come out of it, there is no doubt at all about that.”
Ferdinand, who has made high-profile errors in recent United and England matches, has suffered a series of calf, back, hip and thigh injuries over the past year. The former Leeds and West Ham player, beaten for pace and strength by Fernando Torres for Liverpool’s opening goal at Anfield 10 days ago, has appeared in just eight of United’s 17 matches this season.
Indeed, the defender has missed around half of United’s games over the past calendar year, with the stop-start nature of the player’s appearances having an effect on Ferdinand’s form, according to Ferguson.
While Ferguson has no doubt Ferdinand’s form will return when the injuries clear up, others are less certain. Such is the perceived depreciation in Ferdinand’s form that former England manager Graham Taylor said the defender has “lost his legs” last weekend. Although Taylor’s appreciation of the defender’s art is aptly surmised by recalling how the former Watford boss deployed 6′ 3″ United centre-back Gary Pallister at left-back for a crucial 1994 World Cup qualifier in Norway.
Ferguson also revealed that Ferdinand, 31 on Saturday, has played through the pain barrier for United in recent weeks. While the defender will miss Tuesday’s match, he has a slim chance of making United’s trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend.
“Playing with injuries is not the easiest thing to do but of course we will try to get that right for Rio,” said Ferguson, who will pair Wes Brown and Jonny Evans against the Russian side at Old Trafford, with Nemanja Vidic also ruled-out.
“Calf injuries can be troublesome and, if you don’t arrest them and give them their proper treatment, you can end up the way we are just now with players playing games when they are not 100% fit.”
But Ferdinand’s position at the heart of both United and England’s defence is far from certain should injuries persist. Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Louis Saha will attest that Ferguson is no slave to quality if he cannot deploy it on the pitch.
Wayne Rooney, another player likely to miss the CSKA match, has been given compassionate leave after the birth of his son, Kai. Ferguson will pair Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in attack, with Italian teenager Federico Macheda drafted into the squad.