Rio Ferdinand has been one of the best centre halves of his generation
United had lost the title the season previous to a rampant Arsenal, who added the ultimate insult by winning the championship at Old Trafford. It wasn’t supposed to have been this way. At the start of the season, Ferguson had acquired the creative magician Seba Veron from Lazio and the sharp shooting Ruud van Nistelrooy who had so cruelly been denied the chance the summer before due to injury.
United’s attacking arsenal was somewhat overshadowed by the frailties in defence following the departure of fans favourite Jaap Stam to Seba Veron’s old club. Lauren Blanc was brought in and United struggled, losing at home to Bolton, away at Newcastle and 3-0 at home to Chelsea to name a few. For all Blanc’s qualities in the 80s and 90s, in 2001 he was well past his best.
As Ferguson’s United always did in defeat, he regrouped and looked at how to wrestle the title back from North London. In the summer of 2002, Rio Ferdinand made the same journey to Old Trafford as Eric Cantona, Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan from Leeds United to break the British transfer record. He and United have never looked back.
In July 2002, Ferdinand was one of Europe’s hottest properties. He was 23, coming to the biggest club in England off the back of an excellent World Cup performance. A slim line Ronaldo with an abysmal haircut took centre stage, whilst countryman Rivaldo’s pathetic fall caught the headlines – but as the tournament evolved, Ferdinand’s stock increased. His omission from the all star team extremely questionable, his dad dance post scoring against Denmark most definitely so, but the man from south east London was making waves.
Fast forward eleven years, a European Cup and seven league titles, its fair to say United’s number five has repaid his huge transfer fee. Testimonials aren’t what they used to be due to the extortionate amounts of money and sponsorship involved in the game today. The romantic nature of the testimonial is long gone, with the aging former star who stood on the terraces as a boy bowing out with one final swan song and handsome pay cheque is confined to an old 1980s programme you may find looking around in the loft. Testimonials still have a significance though as the proceeds are usually donated to charity and it gives the fans and players a chance to pay tribute to a top servant of a club.
Ferdinand is most definitely a great Manchester United servant, along with a superb player. Five appearances behind Gary Pallister and eighteen ahead of Steve Bruce – Ferdinand is wedged in the top twenty all time top appearances for the club. If he stays injury free this season he could even overtake former United captain Martin Buchan who made 456 starts for United. Injuries were of course a great concern to Ferdinand post 2008. In 2009/10 he made just twenty appearances, with Chelsea picking up the Premier League title on the final day, whilst making only nine more appearance in United’s 19th title winning season. With Ferdinand on the wrong side of 30 and injuries mounting up, it looked as if he may be on the way out.
Sure enough, Ferdinand proved all doubters wrong and has been a pivotal part of the United backline for the past two seasons. Its criminal that Ferdinand was so harshly overlooked for the national squad, however – this was surely down to off the field issues, rather than ‘footballing’ ones. England did come calling once again for Ferdinand, however – the player politely declined the offer to compete for the road to his namesake, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson reiterating the point time and time again that his centre half has a strict training regime that couldn’t be disrupted. Fergie, forever the genius of psychology, ensured that Ferdinand was well aware of who was there for him when the national team didn’t want him.
Ferdinand of course, like many footballers in the limelight, has had his fair share of controversy. His eight month ban for missing a routine drugs test the most obvious blotch in his United career and of course, when he was booed at the end of 2004/05 for his reluctance to sign a new deal with the club. This coming after photos emerged of Ferdinand meeting with Chelsea in the April of that season. But since that period of United’s transition, with club captain Roy Keane leaving on a free and Rooney and Ronaldo continuing to mature, Ferdinand’s performances and importance were vital to the success of the football club.
In the 2006 January transfer window, United bought Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow. Vidic a tough figure and excellent in the air was a superb partner for the more cultured visionary that is Ferdinand. Vidic would attack and bully the centre forwards whilst Rio would sweep up behind the Serbian. In 2007/08, many former players compared the duo to that of Baresi and Costacurta, the legendary AC Milan paring. Post 2005/06, United won three titles on the bounce – a period that highlighted the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson, who was written off during Chelsea’s back to back title wins. For all of Ronaldo’s goals, Ferdinand and Vidic were colossal at the back.
His playing style is unorthadox to a stereotype English defender. His cultured and composed approach somewhat alien to that of the “running through walls” Terry Butcher. When he was younger, many felt that for all his technical ability, he lacked concentration at important times to be considered a top defender. His somewhat lethargical approach, at times, drew criticism and even when he made mistakes later in his career, take the attempted scoop over Bellamy’s head when City drew level to make it 3-3 in the epic derby at home in 2009, this was usually cited as the main reason. As he got older, the errors disappeared and his reading of the game became even more apparent. He once went 4515 minutes of football without picking up a yellow card, from the spring of 2009 to 2011 new years day – an epic achievement by anyones standards.
His influence in the dressing room is fundamental to the development of Jones and Smalling, whilst assisting new manager David Moyes. As Ferdinand enters the autumn of his career and he looks forward to yet another season defending the title, it doesn’t hurt to look back and see what he has achieved in his 432 appearances at the club. Great players, such as Keane, Van der sar, Van nistelrooy, Ronaldo, and Scholes have come and gone – but Ferdinand, despite the collusus transfer fee, remains one of Ferguson’s best acquisitions. A fitting tribute that the legendary manager’s final home game saw the towering defender smash the ball home to claim a 2-1 victory. The Stretford End saluted, Fergie bowed out and United now pay tribute to one of the best ever defenders produced in this country.
If you want a chance to win a signed copy of Rio Ferdinand’s new book, then why not enter our competition.