Sport360° view: Classy Ferdinand unlikely to get the credit he deserves

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End of an era: "At his peak he was blessed with pace rarely seen in centre-backs."

If reports are to be believed, Rio Ferdinand’s first-class Manchester United career met an utterly classless end in the tunnels of Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium.

Glazer family’s stooge, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, was the one dispatched to tell the veteran centre-back that his contract would not be renewed this summer. With one exchange, more than a decade of outstanding service came to an end. 

Since crossing the Pennines from bitter rivals Leeds United for £30 million (Dh186.7m) after a stellar World Cup 2002 with England, Ferdinand helped the club to six Premier League titles, two League Cups and one Champions League.

However, his displays this year have not been befitting of a man of his status. He has resembled a vintage Rolls Royce with too many kilometres on the clock, reduced to a tired old banger as strikers have profited from his reduced speed and flexibility.

History should not be re-written to centre on the travails of the last season as Ferdinand’s physical attributes declined, and a less-than-harmonious relationship with doomed former manager David Moyes emerged.

At his peak he was blessed with pace rarely seen in centre-backs, but his soothsayer’s mind meant he seldom had to use it.

As late as 2012-13 he excelled as United stormed to the Premier League title, being rightly voted into the all-star selection. This long-lasting excellence was honed in the same West Ham academy that produced England’s effortless World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, his grace on the pitch being further boosted by teenage ballet lessons.

These silky attributes contrasted perfectly with the gritty Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian often received the lion’s share of the plaudits, as his thunderous challenges and iron will provided eye-catching highlights.

But the brains of a partnership that began to blossom in 2006-07 was Ferdinand. An exquisite goal against Liverpool in that campaign lives long in the memory, as well as two titanic performances to keep Lionel Messi’s Barcelona scoreless on the way to the 2008 Champions League trophy.

A long-standing back injury saw him begin to creak, an issue that made his return to prominence all the more remarkable.

Unfortunately, Ferdinand is unlikely to get the credit he deserves. A missed drugs test saw him banned for Euro 2004, with many United supporters never forgiving him for being pictured with Machiavellian Chelsea suit Peter Kenyon during delicate contract negotiations a year later.

Such a bitter viewpoint does no service to a true Red Devils legend. The exits of Ferdinand, Vidic and, possibly, Patrice Evra, leave gaping holes in defence.

The £27m (Dh166.8m) pursuit of Southampton’s prodigious leftback Luke Shaw must be replicated elsewhere if United are going to have the base to improve on their desperate seventh-place finish.

In 2002, some critics questioned the worth of spending so much on Ferdinand. If Shaw’s talent is anywhere near as enduring, he will prove to be cheap.

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Zabaleta hopes City can build on EPL title with Champions League improvement

Alam Khan 13/05/2014
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Continental quest: Pablo Zabaleta (l) wants his City side to make better strides in Europe next year.

Before touching down in the UAE, Pablo Zabaleta said Manchester City will be on a mission to win the Champions League next season as they look to build on their Premier League triumph.

Having proved to be the best in England again, the Etihad outfit – owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE and minister of presidential affairs – are now eager to move up another level and become kings of Europe.

Defeat to Barcelona in the last 16 of this season’s competition after a hard-fought contest left City bitterly disappointed, and right-back Zabaleta said: “I think all these players, we are thinking about it.

“Looking forward, it’s a competition we are very excited about trying to win. This club is very ambitious and the owner has been spending big over many years to build a strong team. 

“We have won two Premier Leagues in three seasons and not many teams can say this.

“This is a massive achievement for this club, but we need to come back even stronger next season because this squad and club are very hungry for more trophies and the only way to create this strong mentality, to become a top team in the world, is just winning trophies.

“The only way to keep growing as a club is by winning a trophy every single season. Now we feel that we are one of the best teams in England. We want to bring more success to this club.

“But step by step. The Champions League is a competition where you play against the best teams in Europe. On those days, you have to perform well in the big games. The Premier League is different, it’s week in, week out.

“You have 38 games and if you drop points, you have the chance to win the next game. The Champions League is a competition where if you make one mistake, you are out. We know how difficult it is to reach the final of the Champions League and win it.”

Zabaleta and his team-mates flew into Abu Dhabi this morning after confirming the title with a 2-0 victory over West Ham on Sunday and enjoying an open-top parade in front of thousands of fans in Manchester.

With a friendly against Al Ain on Thursday, boss Manuel Pellegrini is expected to showcase the squad strength that was crucial to pipping Liverpool to top spot.

The absence of players such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Stevan Jovetic, Matija Nastasic and Micah Richards to injuries over the course of the season would have hampered many sides, and Zabaleta added: “Sometimes good players can win games, but big squads can win titles. That was the key for this team.

“It’s normal for a team like us where we play in four competitions in one season and you have many games to play, you need two big players in every position. 

“We had some problems struggling with injuries, but you see big players coming in and doing the same job and this is what you need to win trophies.”

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Sport360° view: Roy Hodgson’s faith in England’s youngsters is refreshing

Andy Lewis 13/05/2014
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Wise head: Hodgson has delighted many with his World Cup selection.

Given the low World Cup expectations for a transitional England team, the clamour for manager Roy Hodgson to put his faith in the next generation was probably as logical as it was romantic. 

And yesterday, the veteran coach achieved what few of his predecessors have managed, in revealing a squad for a major tournament to widespread harmony and praise.

Dropping Ashley Cole was the headline act, yet his regression to second-choice left-back took the sting out of the backlash.

And the inclusion of 18-year-old Luke Shaw as understudy to Leighton Baines was part of a clear strategy of Hodgson’s to infuse his squad with youthful ambition.

Shaw is part of a new wave of English talent which has excelled in the Premier League this season, and he is rightly joined on the plane by Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana – as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who at 20 already possesses 14 caps. 

The challenge for Hodgson now is to be bold enough to make their Brazilian odyssey more than just a glorified sight-seeing exercise.

Barkley’s penchant for the spectacular and fearless dribbling marks him out as a special talent, Sterling emerged at the forefront of Liverpool’s unlikely title bid, while Lallana has looked every inch an international footballer in his three England outings to date. 

It’s probably unlikely that any of them, or certainly more than one of that trio, will line-up from the off in England’s opener against Italy in Manaus on June 14, but Hodgson has to be decisive enough to give them ample time to affect the game from the bench and brave enough to start them thereafter when their campaign almost inevitably requires fresh impetus. 

Ahead of them much will, as always, depend on Wayne Rooney and it seems likely that Daniel Sturridge’s form will see the Manchester United man deployed as a second striker with Rickie Lambert and Danny Welbeck the reserve forward options. 

It’s not the finest stable of frontmen England has ever taken to a tournament, but perhaps the greatest area of concern for Hodgson will be at the back, where he opted to take just seven defenders to free up another midfield berth. 

Yet the truth is, given a dearth of options, it was probably an easy call.  A back five of keeper Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Baines virtually picks itself, but while it’s a collective of proven Premier League performers, it’s a unit as yet largely untested at the highest level. 

And when you have back up options like a half-fit Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – coming off abject campaigns with United – it is understandable why some fear it is the area which could prove to be their undoing. 

What most England fans are also hoping is that Frank Lampard doesn’t come into the equation; and that the veteran’s input is restricted to mentoring youngsters or coming on to take a penalty in a shootout. 

Lampard’s legs look heavy in the Premier League let alone in the heat of Brazil and Hodgson would be better served making full use of the younger, fresher options he has been visionary enough to select.

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