By Mark Weasley
Rio Ferdinand is a colossal figure in the history of English football, forging one of the greatest central defensive partnerships in the history of the Premier League alongside Nemanja Vidic. The retired footballer, who had turned to professional boxing won 6 league titles with Manchester United and few will forget his calmness in possession in an era known for tough tackling, uncompromising defending.
One of the very few English defenders that could have turned out for Barcelona, Rio Ferdinand epitomised the lads centre back, a mixture of brain and brawn, and it is only a shame that England didn’t use his golden generation to make a mark on the global game.
Ferdinand twice broke the transfer record for a defender in English football, first with Leeds and with Manchester United. Part of the famous West Ham academy alongside the likes of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick, he made his debut in 98, and immediately gained plaudits for his defensive prowess.
He was majestic on the ball, rarely making rash tackles. He joined Leeds in 2000 for £18m, helping the club establish a growing influence on the English game and reaching the Champions League semifinals. He joined Manchester United in the summer of 2002 after the World Cup in Asia, and helped United win the title in his first season.
A failed drugs test early on in his United career threatened to derail his reputation but his response after that was exemplary. The story of the drugs test doesn’t make for pleasant reading, as it is reported that he didn’t get the memo on time, instead of him failing to go because he knew he had spiked his system.
Labelled as a “Rolls-Royce” defender for his speed in his younger years, he compensated for his loss of pace later on his career with an uncanny ability to read the game. He also took the responsibility of representing the club well, despite not being a member of the club’s famed class of ’92.
He and some other senior members of the team took on the challenge of usurping Chelsea, who looked like establishing a dynasty from 2004-2007. He helped United win three consecutive titles from 07-09, and will forever be remembered for guiding the team in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season of 12/13, which is still the last league title we have won.
Rated in the same bracket as the likes of Bobby Moore and John Terry as England’s finest central defenders, Ferdinand had the look of a burly, no no-nonsense player, but that was overshadowed by his grace on the ball as well as his defending, which is regarded as one of the best ever.
United miss players like Ferdinand and on a day like this, we can only remember all he did for our great club. We wish him the best in his boxing career, which we trust he would do well. His commitment to his job is something young players can emulate.