Rio Ferdinand: 'We shouldn't be bitter towards Cristiano Ronaldo'

It has been a frantic summer for Rio Ferdinand. There was a stag do in Tel Aviv, in which – for a dare apparently – he was photographed in the kind of stretched T-shirt and skimpy shorts that would not have looked out of place alongside Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno. Then there was a private jet to the Caribbean to marry his long-time girlfriend, Rebecca Ellison, and at the start of the month an interview with Roger Federer for his online magazine #5.

Now, Ferdinand is sitting in the dining room of one of Seoul's many grand but anonymous hotels contemplating the long months ahead during United's pre-season tour. He couldn't begin to tell you what the South Korean capital is like. There is a Hermès store in the hotel complex and Louis Vuitton is coming soon but that is as far as most footballers will get. "All I have seen is the hotel, the bus and the pitch," he says.

The defender also admitted he did a lot of thinking during the summer, pondering the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez from Old Trafford. Wondering too in the aftermath of United's non-performance in the European Cup final, whether it had actually been a good season and asking himself what the club was doing signing Michael Owen.

"At first I thought it was a bad season, that was my first reaction," he said. "But as time goes on and the days and the weeks pass, you judge it with a clearer head. We won three trophies and reached a second-successive Champions League final. But when you are travelling around in the summer you are never too far from a news stand and I would normally buy a sports magazine but this time I didn't. I was to-ing and fro-ing in my mind if I should have done this or that but it is time to put it to bed. It is over now, it's time to look forward to a new season."

That though will be a season without Ronaldo and Tevez. "I am a great badgerer of the coaching staff," Ferdinand said. "I always want to know what's going on. Everyone was signing players and I was thinking to myself: 'Well, what are we doing?' But, then again, if we have to go into a season with the same nucleus of players, I wouldn't have been bothered. What reassures me is that there is so much more to come from our younger players – the Machedas, the Welbecks, the Evanses.

"We shouldn't be bitter towards Ronnie. If you think that a career lasts 10-12 years, he gave six of them to Manchester United. Half of his career to one club after coming from Portugal. You couldn't cast a shadow over his dream to play for Real Madrid. Playing for Manchester United is the holy grail for some people, and some people won't understand him but he is a great lad and will always have an affinity with the players here. In time people will see that."

Tevez, of course, has moved across Manchester, one of the players on which Mark Hughes has lavished millions of the riches available thanks to the club's owners. The audacious attempt to lure the England captain John Terry from Chelsea, though, looks to have failed and Ferdinand believes players have to think hard about why they are switching clubs.

"JT is his own man, he will make his own decisions, everyone makes their own decisions in life. If I were leaving Manchester United, I wouldn't go to a team I felt wasn't capable of winning trophies or finishing in the top three. Whether that is Manchester City I don't know. The more I think about it, abroad is the only place I can see myself going. I wouldn't want to be playing against Manchester United every week. I would rather go away. But sitting here I can't see myself leaving."

It was in the far east in 2002 that Ferdinand first showed himself to be a defender touched by greatness and, had England done things differently, they would have capitalised on Owen's goal in the quarter-final with Brazil and maybe won the World Cup. Seven years later, Ferdinand and Owen are together again.

"Initially I was surprised when he signed. But I was thinking like a fan. If you look at his stats, he has played a lot more games than I thought but after seeing him close up I am very confident we have signed the right type of player. You can understand why the manager has put faith in him. He needs the ball delivered into dangerous areas and other people – the forwards and midfielders – are going to have to take responsibility for that because goals have gone out of our team and they need to be made up. One thing I'm sure of is that Ronaldo's going will bring the best out in our players. We know he scored a lot of goals in the last two seasons for us, especially against the lower teams in the league. He'd get a couple of goals a game against them on a regular basis. But we've got players who we know are capable of doing that and now, whoever's on the pitch, I'm sure they can go out there, do that job and fill the gap."

Nobody in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad would feel that as keenly as Wayne Rooney. When he arrived from Everton five summers ago and announced himself with a hat-trick against Fenerbahce on his debut for Manchester United, there seemed no doubt he would be Old Trafford's most glittering star, a mantle that, in the end, fell to Ronaldo. By no means has Rooney failed or underachieved at United, but centre stage is now his.

"He is such a team player and gives himself so completely to the team that he loses the selfishness other forwards have," Ferdinand said. "I think Wayne's an instinctive player and you need them. If you have 11 robots on the pitch, then you are not going to be a successful or entertaining team. Free-flowing is the way United have always played."

Ferguson has remarked that with Ronaldo and Tevez gone much will depend on Manchester United's defence, which, led by Ferdinand and with Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic, is probably the most formidable rearguard in the world. This time last season, it was a defence that Jonny Evans, the fiercely talented Belfast boy wondered if he could break into. Roy Keane and Sunderland were offering him guaranteed first-team football but Ferdinand gave him the same advice as he would Terry. In the world of the Premier League, where everyone is a millionaire, medals are the only currency that matters.

"I spoke to him in pre-season last year in South Africa. He asked me about it. He was at a stage where he wanted to play every week. He had that the season before on loan at Sunderland and he didn't want to come back and play reserve-team football again.

"But it's the same argument for any young player. Do you want to go and play for a team in mid-table or do you want to be in a squad where you're going to get chances to play in a title-winning team or European Cup-winning team? When you look at it like that, it's a bit of a no-brainer."

No comments: