Living legend: Rio Ferdinand in Dubai. (Pic by Chris Whiteoak/whiteoakpictures)
When it comes to learning about the fine art of defending, a group of Dubai youngsters were spoiled this week by England and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand.
Ferdinand, 38, brought a rarified air to centre-back play during a distinguished career in which he won every major competition going with the Red Devils from 2002-14 and gained 81 caps for his country.
After retiring two years ago after a one-season spell at Queens Park Rangers, the Londoner has gone on to become a pundit with BT Sport and impart his knowledge with Football Escapes alongside friend and former Premier League striker, Bobby Zamora.
It was with this pursuit where Sport360 caught up with him at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Hotel to discuss the Red Devils, how to defend with aplomb and the identity of his dream five-a-side team…
Q) How important is it that manager Jose Mourinho can return Manchester United to the Champions League?
A) Getting in the Champions League, no matter how United get there, is the remit I am sure for the manager.
However they get there, people will be satisfied. This is because once you are in the Champions League, you can then start planning for recruitment with the Champions League in your back pocket.
People know they cannot come up to you and say: ‘you haven’t got Champions League, I don’t want to come’.
They’ve got a window where maybe if they didn’t get in the Champions League for the next two or three years, because of the size of the club and potential that is still there.
Liverpool are a great example. They dominated the 1980s and now in terms of fighting for players, Liverpool would come quite a way down the roster when it comes to signing the top players on the planet.
How have you gauged this season for United?
The way the club has played this season is an improvement on the last few seasons under two other managers.
They’re on an unbeaten run, but the only problem with that is too many draws.
That means their position in the table [outside the top four] hasn’t really altered. That has been a disappointing element. But I just see signs that the team, with the right transfers in this window coming up, can make strides forward.
It is very important to finish in the Champions League positions or win the Europa League if they are to attract the biggest stars. It is an important next couple of months, on different fronts, for Manchester United.
Ivory Coast centre-back Eric Bailly arrived at United this season. What have you made of him and what areas would you like to see him work on?
He’s aggressive, he’s always on the front foot trying to win the first ball. That’s great, you’ve just got to pick your moments and making sure you don’t leave yourself exposed.
He’s had a decent first season, in which a few injuries have set him back a little bit. He’s very athletic, which you need in the modern game.
On the ball, it is something which he’ll need to keep on working. He’s got all the tools and credentials to be a top defender if he keeps on improving.
Striker Marcus Rashford’s emergence has been a huge boost for United. What are your first memories of him?
It was the way he moved well. He was a bit behind physically to the others, but you could see that technical ability to run past players and glide like the wind.
How have you found your training sessions in Dubai?
Myself and Bobby have both got young kids, so we are well versed in interacting with the younger generation. Out here with the weather like it is, taking the kids of their parents’ hands for a couple of hours a day is rewarding for the parents and also the kids get something out of it. They’ll learn something every day.
When you are teaching kids, is defending an art or something more basic?
Defending is definitely an art. I think it is something you get better at with time. I like cool-headed defenders, I don’t like emotional defenders who get caught up in situations and the moments. They are volatile.
Being cool, calm and collected and seeing clearly at all times is very important. Also, being good one-on-one.
Especially in today’s game, if you can defend one-on-one, whether it is physical or tactical, I think you’ve got a good chance.
Evergreen Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic likened himself to film character Benjamin Button after inspiring his team to a 3-0 victory at Premier League basement club Sunderland on Sunday.
Ibrahimovic, 35, opened the scoring with his 28th goal of the season and after Seb Larsson had been sent off for Sunderland, goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford completed victory.
In the day's other game, league top scorer Romelu Lukaku took his tally to 23 goals with a brace as Everton ended Leicester City's six-game winning run with an entertaining 4-2 victory.
United extended their unbeaten record to 21 league games and climbed to fifth place in the table, four points below fourth-place Manchester City, who have played a game more.
United were without goalkeeper David de Gea due to a minor hip injury, with Sergio Romero deputising, but Mourinho expects the Spaniard to be fit for the visit of leaders Chelsea next Sunday.
Ibrahimovic broke the deadlock on the half-hour at the Stadium of Light, fending off Billy Jones and whipping a low shot past Jordan Pickford from 20 yards for his 18th goal of the league campaign.
Sunderland then lost Larsson to a furiously contested straight red card after referee Craig Pawson decided the Swede's challenge on Ander Herrera had been unduly reckless.
The hosts' hopes of a comeback evaporated within 46 seconds of kick-off in the second half as Luke Shaw fed Mkhitaryan to drill a low, angled shot beyond Pickford's dive.
Substitute Rashford completed the scoring late on, exchanging passes with Ibrahimovic and arrowing a low drive into the bottom-left corner.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has now scored 17 league goals this season; the best ever tally from a Man Utd player since 2013/14.
Everton drew level with sixth-place Arsenal, having played three more games, after thwarting Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare's quest for a sixth successive league win and seventh in total.
Home-grown 18-year-old midfielder Tom Davies put Everton ahead after only 31 seconds following a dart into the box by Kevin Mirallas.
Demarai Gray released Islam Slimani to level in the fourth minute and six minutes later, Marc Albrighton's free-kick from wide on the left embarrassed Joel Robles to put Leicester ahead.
But Lukaku equalised in the 23rd minute, heading in an exquisite cross by Ross Barkley, and after Phil Jagielka had headed in from a corner, Lukaku smashed in his second with over half an hour to play.
AC Milan had Suso, Mario Pasalic, Carlos Bacca and Gerard Deulofeu to thank for the goals in a solid San Siro display that moved the Rossoneri up to sixth place.
Milan are now just two points behind Atalanta, in the final Europa League qualifying spot, with Inter moving the other way to sit four points behind the high-flying Bergamo side.
Although leaders Juventus moved nine points clear of the pack with a 2-0 win over Chievo on Saturday, when Gonzalo Higuain hit his second brace in as many outings, the Turin giants haven't secured their record sixth consecutive scudetto yet.
Goals by Federico Fazio and Mohamed Salah gave Roma a 2-0 first-half lead at Bologna and striker Edin Dzeko tapped home an easy third on 75 minutes as Luciano Spalletti's men restored their six-point deficit.
PSG moved back into second place in Ligue 1 with a convincing win over Guingamp late on Sunday night.
Angel Di Maria opened the scoring for PSG before an Edinson Cavani double and Blaise Matuidi rounded off the scoring.
The reigning champions remain three points off table-toppers Monaco with seven games to play.
MOST DOMINATING WIN – UNITED SEE OFF BELEAGUERED BLACK CATS
It was one of the most one-sided contests you'll see in the English top flight and was further evidence, as if it was needed, that Sunderland look destined for the drop.
On the other hand, United look like they will push hard to finish in the Champions League qualifying positions.
PLAYER OF THE DAY – ROMELU LUKAKU
This was a close run thing between the Everton hitman and United star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the Belgian just edges it.
He was in clinical form for the Blues and extended his lead at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts - grabbing his 22nd and 23rd goals of the campaign.