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#RioFerdinand – The Colossal ball player defender of Manchester United

Rio Ferdinand

Manchester United were the trophy monsters of English Premier League having won 13 Premier League titles but their trophy haul was not just based on wing play and effective strikers, it was  built on foundations of a solid defence. 

Sir Alex Ferguson said “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.”

Aniketos and Alexiares were the two Olympian demigods that presided over the defence of forts and citadels. For the United supporters, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic hold the title of the two Olympian demigods. 

Nemanja Vidic joined the Red Devils much later when Rio Ferdinand had already established himself as the general in the Manchester United defence. The player who once held the record for being the most expensive defender, has a glorious career graph to boast.Though Rio Ferdinand had stints at West Ham United, Leeds United and QPR it was his stay at Old Trafford that garnered the most praise. He came as a young, developing centre back and left as a Premier League legend.

In his childhood Rio Ferdinand was known as the “Jack of all trades” as the little Rio not only excelled at football but also made shined in theatre, ballet and gymnastics. However, with passage of time and maturing as a human, he knew the path the wanted to take and soon became the “master of one”.


Where it all began..

Rio Ferdinand didn’t have an easy childhood. Separated parents, death of a close school friend had a deep impact on his evolving brain. However, the little Rio was able to harness all the energy into Football, Gymnastics, theatre and ballet. At the tender age of 10 he was invited to train with Queens Park Rangers. His superior footballing skills were already witnessed and taken note of by youth scouts of various clubs. After training with Charlton Athletic, QPR, Chelsea and Millwall, he finally joined the youth system of West Ham United in 1992.

Ferdinand progress at youth level helped him earn his first professional contract and a place in the first team. The moment finally arrived for Ferdinand to make a mark in the world of football. His debut arrived on 5th May 1996 as a substitute. A tall 18 year old made a big impression that season. He was a bright prospect and Manchester United knocked on West Ham’s door for Ferdinand’s services.

A loan spell to Bournemouth in 1996 allowed Ferdinand to get some more minutes under his belt and continue his growth. Sturdy performances on his return to West Ham helped him earn the title of “Hammer of the year” just at the age of 19. The next season was a high for Rio as his defensive solidity at the back allowed West Ham to finish 5th and play in the UEFA Cup qualification. 

In 2000, Leeds United came calling for Rio Ferdinand and he switched from West Ham’s claret and blue to Leed’s all white, with the transfer fee a then world record of £18 million.


A legendary career..

Rio Ferdinand’s debut for the Peacocks was nothing what the 23 year old must have dreamt of. A humiliating 3-1 defeat to Leicester City crushed Ferdinand’s confidence but not his will to succeed. He soon was able to put his worries back and integrate himself at Elland Road. The most significant moment for Rio Ferdinand was when he managed to score in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal. Leeds scored three at home but lost 2-0 away and it was Ferdinand’s goal in the first leg that helped them progress. The Whites finished fourth in the league, managing 11 clean sheets. The shape of Leeds had changed since the arrival of Rio Ferdinand. His perennial presence at the back allowed the team’s offensive players do their bit in the opposition half without being worried about the fragility at the back. His everlasting presence was recognized by manager David O’Leary and was handed the club captainship as a reward for his services. 

In summer 2002,  Leeds United was all of a sudden hit by financial troubles and rumors circulated that new manager Terry Venables would be forced to part ways with his most prized asset, Rio Ferdinand. Leeds United were in dire need of money and decided to cash in on Ferdinand. The Englishman returned after an impressive World Cup campaign which helped his stock rise even further. On July 22, 2002, Rio Ferdinand signed for a club where he would become a legend: Manchester United. The sale aided Leeds to avert a perilous financial tragedy as United paid an overall fee of £34 million. Rio became the world’s most expensive defender for the second time.

When you become the world’s most expensive defender, the stakes are already high, the expectations are immense from the fans and the team management. Rio didn’t disappoint anyone as he was straight away thrown into the mix of action, helping Manchester United win the Premier League trophy.

The following season for Ferdinand is till date considered being a black spot in his illustrious career. Rio Ferdinand failed to appear for a drug test in September 2003. The squad had just finished training at Carrington and was supposed to take a drug test; however, Rio completely forgot about the scheduled assessment and instead left the training centre to go for shopping. The centre back remembered midway about the test and returned to Carrington to give his sample but was told that he had already violated the rules and an investigation will be set up.

Rio Ferdinand did give his sample the next day and passed the test. To cover for his mistake and carelessness, the Englishman offered to also appear for a hair follicle test. Hair follicle tests are more accurate and give results for the past six months, however, FA refused. But the damage had already been done. The FA were in no mood to show mercy and post the investigation, Rio Ferdinand was charged a fine of £50,000. The fine was never the problem, Footballers are paid in six figures a week and Ferdinand was more than happy to oblige and pay the fine. However, FA weren’t done yet as they smashed an eight month complete football ban on the player in January 2004. This was devastating news for Ferdinand; he was completely shocked on how bitterly he got punished for a thoughtless blunder. 

Manchester United appealed to FIFA to reduce the ban and consider the case similar to that of Manchester City’s Christian Negouai. However, then FIFA President Sepp Blatter provided clarity that the Man City player was struck in traffic whereas Rio’s actions fall under “refusal to take the test”. The FA and FIFA appealed to extend the ban to 12 months but the original decision was upheld.

After his ban, Rio returned to the team after a lengthy spell of eight months yet, it didn’t look like the centre back had not gone at all as Ferdinand was a virtual ever-present in the United defence as he played 31 times in the league for the club as they finished third behind Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

After almost three years, Rio scored his debut goal for Manchester United. He scored his first United career goal in the 4-0 rout of Wigan Athletic. This was the sign of more things to come. Rio hadn’t been knocked down by the ban but instead had revived as a major power in the backline. The 2005 season didn’t yield the Premier League trophy as Sir Alex’s men could only manage runners up position. It had now been three years since the English Top flight trophy had come to Old Trafford. The following season, the Red Devils did manage to win the league, overpowering Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Rio Ferdinand starred as usual. United kept 16 clean sheets and allowed only 27 goals throughout the campaign.

Manchester United continued their rampant performances and trophies continued to mount. In 2008, Rio Ferdinand had the onus to play as a goalkeeper in the FA Cup quarterfinal against Portsmouth after Edwin van der Sar had to leave the ground after picking up a groin injury and substitute keeper Tomasz Kuszczak was sent off and conceded a penalty. Rio Ferdinand failed to save Sulley Muntari’s penalty and United were eliminated from the FA Cup. Rio Ferdinand later in the season picked up a foot injury and was a doubtful case in the second leg of the Champions League against AS Roma. However, the defender played through the pain barrier and even received three stitches at half time as he continued to provide stability at the back which helped United progress.

We all have been aware of Rio’s failure to appear for a drug test and the ban it lead to. The 30 year old had already been embarrassed with one controversy. While his on field performances continued to garner acclaim, another controversy was waiting to plague Rio in the shadows. After United’s loss to Chelsea in April 2008, Ferdinand was gutted by the loss and out of frustration swore at the Chelsea stewards and appeared to kick a wall in the tunnel. However, he kick instead hit a female steward. Chelsea fans and activists went bonkers and demanded a ban on Rio Ferdinand. In his defence, he stated that he merely brushed her foot and had already apologized by sending flowers. However, the steward went public and showed the bruise on the leg from Ferdinand’s kick and also revealed that no apology or flowers had come from the player’s side.

He was rock solid in the semi finals and the final as well and his valiant efforts in defence finally came to fruition as he Manchester United won the Champions League. He captained the side in the final and lifted the cup alongside Ryan Giggs.

Usually Rio Ferdinand won every battle on the field but the time had come when his age and body started to get the better of him. Rio started succumbing to injuries with majority of the 2009-10 season spent on the sidelines due to recurring back and knee injuries. Injuries continued to hamper Ferdinand’s career as he remained out of action due to injuries in the upcoming season.

It was pitiful to see a player who had achieved so much, who had conquered trophies, a player who bossed the opposition attackers was surrendering to unwanted injuries. In fact, the last few years of Rio Ferdinand’s United career were highlighted by his never ending injuries. Yet, the centre back was able to manage considerable amount of games, however, the appearances were never in succession.

As years passed, United continued their domination in the domestic competitions and also the Champions League. Ferdinand after captaining the side to victory against Chelsea in the 2008 UCL final, found himself on the losing side in 2009 and 2011 as Sir Alex’s men fell short at the hands of Barcelona.

The 2012-13 season was announced as Sir Alex’s last season at Old Trafford. The entire fanbase, the squad and even the opponents were left in a state of shock that they won’t be able to see one of the best coaches of the world again in the dugout. Ferdinand and the Scotsman shared a great friendship. A relationship that was beyond just football, it was made out of respect and admiration for each another. Rio Ferdinand gave him the best possible farewell: Scoring the winning and the final goal of Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford. The centre back was able to extend his deal for another year and stayed till the end of 2013-14 season. In the later seasons, he had assumed a bits and pieces role and acted as more of a mentor to players like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and the others. The former English international finally left the club that helped him achieve so much, that helped him become a celebrated player at the age of 36 in 2014.

Ferdinand felt fit and joined newly promoted Queens Park Rangers at the start of the 2014 season as a free agent. The robust defender only played 11 games throughout the season and also featured against United in the 4-0 thrashing. Rio Ferdinand was never supposed to be a marquee signing, he was enjoying his last bit of football that was left in him and as QPR went down back to the Championship, the defender hanged up his boots.


What was Rio Ferdinand footballer like…

Long gone are the days when players of the backline were just foot soldiers, built for throwing themselves in the way of the wizardry players, metal studs, and sharp elbows. Once Rio Ferdinand burst into the West Ham first team and began to follow up on industrial tackles with elegant pirouettes past blood curdling tackles, the world of football sat up and noticed. The world knew that technically adept centre backs were the future in football. He was the first of many to possess fine ball distribution and passing talent. During the early twenties of Ferdinand, the term “footballing centre half” gained currency.

When long balls were de rigueur in our game, players with strong backs and long necks were traditionally the centre backs. But Rio Ferdiand was to change the concept of a centre back forever. Previously in England, if the ball was on the defensive half for any length of time, the necessity was to lump it long as quickly as possible. Ferdinand was simply more elegant on the ball and didn’t panic if he had the ball at his feet for a long time. Rio Ferdinand appeared confident on the ball and never fazed from moving the ball forward with thrust.

Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand formed a solid partnership. The duo worked out pretty well for Manchester United because both the centre backs had different qualities that complemented each other perfectly. His ability to take the ball and move forward was widely lauded by pundits. During his prime he was a trusted weapon in the air a well and often dominated his opponents in aerial duels. Rio’s pace as a centre back was pretty commendable and one of the strong points that allowed him to drive the ball forward. He was the torchbearer for the new generation defender and the centre backs from today can learn a lot from his style.


What are the moments we remember Rio Ferdinand for…

From all white to a Red Devil

Thirty million quid is a lump today. That was what Sir Alex paid for the services of Rio to Leeds United. It made him the most expensive British player and the most expensive defender in the world for a second time. Eyebrows were raised, and the transfer policy for Manchester United had been challenged. But the people who branded him as an overrated player would now hang their heads in shame because at Old Trafford, Rio has just accomplished everything.

Leeds plunged themselves into a sudden financial crisis and had to sell their star defender to balance their financial note books. The deal was completed for £34 million which included the agent fees, the add-ons. Ferdinand was 24 when he moved to Old Trafford. This was the beginning of his prime and from here he would go onto become a Premier League legend.

The Shopping fiasco

On a normal day in September 2003, Rio Ferdinand had just finished the training and Carrington and was bound to leave for shopping. Before the training, the centre back was informed of about a drugs test that was scheduled to happen post the training session. However, Ferdinand left the training base forgetting about the test only to remember it in the car on his way to Manchester. The Englishman called and requested for the test but he was told it was too late.

The next day he did give his samples for the test and also offered hair follicle tests to quash the rumors of any drug use in the last six months. But the FA refused for the follicle test and instead decided to report this as an act of “failure or refusal” to appear for the drug test. The United man was charged a fine of £50,000 and a football ban of 8 months.

The Bloody red rivalry  

Liverpool and Manchester United share a rich history and even intense rivalry. During the Sir Alex era, the Red Devils always had an upper hand on the Merseysiders. However, in the 2005-06 season, United fans were having a great time. Mourinho’s Chelsea dominating the English top flight with Roman Abramovich’s millions, whilst United supporters contemplated a future under the masses of debt installed by the Glazer family. While a proud United fan searched for a glimmer of hope, he was rewarded with an ocean of delight when the Red Devils managed to win 1-0 over Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Nothing is more enthralling than a winning goal in the dying minutes of the game. In the injury time, Manchester United were awarded a free kick and Rio somehow managed to connect the head with the ball which ended past Pepe Reina. The Old Trafford faithful were sent in euphoria.

UEFA Champions League conquered 

1999 Barcelona UEFA Champions League final is a fond memory in every United supporter. Ferguson’s men achieved something no team on this planet ever did: The treble. But it had been 8 years since the Red Devils reached a European final. The 2007-08 was a significant year in Rio’s career.

Gary Neville was the captain of the team but he had an injury plagued season which forced Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand to share the captaincy throughout the campaign. The Welshman too was injured for the European final; hence, Rio Ferdinand captained the side in the Champions League final against the Blues. 120 minutes of total football couldn’t separate the two sides, and it went to the penalties. Manchester United won 6-5 on penalties and Rio lifted the cup alongside Giggs as he was the captain for the majority of the campaign.

A tribute to Sir Alex    

World came crashing upon the football followers when Sir Alex announced he’d retire as the manager at the end of the 2012-13 Premier League season. Every United player in the team wanted to pay their respects and thank the Scot for his leadership. While players had released social media posts and statements in the newspapers about Sir Alex, Ferdinand chose a different way.

He scored the final goal of the Ferguson era at Old Trafford. It wasn’t the just the final goal but the winning goal as the Red Devils triumphed over Swansea City. As the corner was missed by everyone, Ferdinand managed to connect his feet at the ball at the far post and bludgeon it into the back of the net. This was his way to bid farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson, scoring the goal at Stretford End.


Where is Rio Ferdinand currently ( February 2020 )…

After his retirement he joined BT Sport as a pundit. He still appears on Matchday live and presentations as a pundit. However, in 2017 Ferdinand announced that he planned to launch a career in Boxing. His entire episode was being sponsored by Betfair and was sure that the former Footballer would qualify for the British Boxing Board of Control’s license.

Rio Ferdinand said “I’m doing this [boxing] because it’s a challenge, I’ve won titles and now I’m aiming for a belt”.

However, the BBC refused to give him the license and Rio hanged up his “gloves”.


How other premier league professionals view Rio Ferdinand …

Harry Redknapp said “I tipped him at 16 to be the greatest centre-half in Europe and I think, for a time, that is exactly what he was.” 

Frank Lampard said “I played with Rio for the first two or three years of my career. I saw he come through as a young boy – he started as a No 10 and moved himself back to centre-half. He practised heading – heading maybe 50 balls after training when he was 17 to improve his game. To then see him at Manchester United as an absolute world-beater was amazing because I knew how much it meant to him. He was top class.” 

Dwight Yorke said “The word colossal comes into play as that’s the type of player that Ferdinand was. Rio can leave that football club (Manchester United) with his head held incredibly high in terms of what he has achieved.” 

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

Sir Alex Ferguson said “Rio has been the best defender in the country if not Europe for a couple of years. His maturity and leadership have been key factors in the team’s success. He is someone that young players learn from and that more experienced players respect.” 

Gerard Pique said “Now the position of the centre-back is not just about defending or being nasty or tough. It’s about knowing how to play football, control the ball, pass and be more comfortable in possession. This is something that 10 years ago [in England] they didn’t understand. Rio was the first one who did it.” 


What does Rio Ferdinand say about Rio Ferdinand…

“I set myself high standards on the pitch and know I have not always lived up to them this season”

“If any player has a bad game its there in the back of your mind in the next game. There’s always a hangover. It is like a wounded animal in a way, as you want to get out there as quick as possible and rectify it.”

“If you come out with racist comments, then I believe you shouldn’t be allowed to come to a football match. Don’t be so narrow minded, you’re bigger than that.”

“Football is the most important thing in my life, but I do have a life outside football and this is one part. The TV, the music, the fashion – it all goes to make up Rio Ferdinand.”

“You want to come home from a tournament with a winner’s medal. That’s not the fans or the media putting us under pressure, that’s the pressure we put ourselves under.”

“No matter how much money you have or what kind of cocoon you live in, the reality is that you have lost a game of football and let England’s fans down. We are bothered.”

“Most professional players are their own biggest critics. Some of the things you read in the papers that strike you as bang out of order will already have been thought by the players themselves.”

“If we had a starting XI that no one could argue about it wouldn’t say a lot for English football. We’d probably be on a downward spiral. It’s good that people have different ideas about who should play.”


Rio Ferdinand trivia..

Ferdinand admitted that he became an alcoholic in the immediate aftermath of Rebecca’s (his wife) death. Following the death, the player admitted that his “world collapsed” and he initially turned to alcohol to deal with his grief, but then was dedicated on being a loving dad to his kid.

In 2000, Rio Ferdinand appeared in a sexually explicit video with his fellow English footballers Kieron Dyer and Frank Lampard  filmed at the Ayia Napa resort in Cyprus.  

As soon as the Manchester United star retired in 2015 with a trophy-laden career, he began to set his eyes on a professional fight in a boxing ring after making the shock announcement a post-career activity.        

 His brother, Anton, also a centre-back, plays for Reading, and former England international striker Les Ferdinand and Dagenham & Redbridge midfielder Kane Ferdinand are his cousins.

Rio Ferdinand had developed an interest in theatre, ballet and gymnastics as well. He also represented Southwark at London youth games.


 Rio Ferdinand stats , what you can find on Wiki ( and other sites )…

Teams Season Age Played Started Minutes Goals Assists Yellow Cards Red Cards
Queens Park Rangers 2014-2015 35 11 11 990 0 0 2 0
Manchester United 2013-2014 34 14 12 1129 0 0 0 0
Manchester United 2012-2013 33 28 26 2321 1 1 2 0
Manchester United 2011-2012 32 30 29 2562 0 0 4 0
Manchester United 2010-2011 31 19 19 1710 0 0 0 0
Manchester United 2009-2010 30 13 12 1084 0 0 0 0
Manchester United 2008-2009 29 24 24 2139 0 0 3 0
Manchester United 2007-2008 28 35 35 3045 2 1 4 0
Manchester United 2006-2007 27 33 33 2926 1 0 2 0
Manchester United 2005-2006 26 37 37 3300 3 0 1 1
Manchester United 2004-2005 25 31 31 2790 0 2 3 0
Manchester United 2003-2004 24 20 20 1760 0 1 0 0
Manchester United 2002-2003 23 28 27 2437 0 2 3 0
Leeds United 2001-2002 22 31 31 2790 0 2 0 0
Leeds United 2000-2001 21 35 35 3051 2 0 1 0
West Ham United 1999-2000 20 33 33 2959 0 0 2 0
West Ham United 1998-1999 19 31 31 2703 0 0 5 0
West Ham United 1997-1998 18 35 35 3140 0 3 3 0
West Ham United 1996-1997 17 15 11 1026 2 1 2 0

 


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A football romantic who eats, drinks and sleeps football. There are two times of the year for him: Football season and waiting for the football season. Aspires to become a Football journalist !

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