Today marks the 8th anniversary of the signing of a certain center back, who having learned his trade in South London and plied it in the East before moving to our bitterest of rivals from Yorkshire, became the rock on which all our success in the Noughties was built.
I remember the day Rio signed clearly. I was very ill. I had cancer and was receiving bouts of chemo and it all was a bit harrowing. But as ever as it was before, and still is now, United was my one constant. I’d watched the World Cup from my sick-bed, getting up early to watch games..and as all fans do..I was plotting who I wanted the manager to sign next.
It was clear to any United die hard that our problems laid in defense. We could attack until the cows came home, but the individual defensive errors that had blighted the previous year were shocking and destabilizing. We needed a center back and we needed one quick. Ferdinand’s performance and leadership out in Japan convinced me, and evidently Sir Alex, that Rio was the man. What I liked most about him was he was a genuine ball playing defender. Not a midfielder playing defensively, but an English center back who actually could pass a ball. Anyhow, thirty odd million pound coins later and he was ours.
In a decade which has seen the mercurial predator that was Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the legends of Scholes and Giggs, and the boy wonders of both Rooney and Ronaldo, it is a subjective debate as to who was our player of the last decade. But for me it is an easy choice.
Rio Ferdinand is the player that all our success has been built. As a paid up member of that Old Trafford crowd I have micro analysed his (and all the others!) every move in every game..the stuff that the TV camera doesn’t always pick up. Rio’s positional sense and tactical nous are the best I have ever seen in the 25 years I have been a United supporter. Yes..Jaap Stam was a monster in that position, Vidic has also excelled. Bruce and Pallister were the glue of the team in the 90s and Paul McGrath was…just immense. But Rio’s capture and his subsequent development as a footballer within our ranks, marks his Stirling effort and contribution as the greatest of any player in the Noughties for me. The detractors of Rio who say he dwells on the ball too much, or makes too many errors, are obviously living in a world of West Ham past, when he was a kid. He has been nothing but consistently excellent for our blessed team. He came to the club and he raised the bar.
So next time Rio gets on that red shirt…just try and watch what he does. And I don’t mean the big tackles or the chasing back or the dramatic headers. Every United attack starts from him. A clever pass. A bit of vision that most English center backs wouldn’t know if it slapped them round the face. He is the power station that our team channels all its nuclear energy from. He is the driver and the conductor. The day he finally goes will be one of those Eric Cantona moments. One of those Roy Keane moments…when you realise just how special a player you have been watching all these years.
So The Faithful salutes you Rio Ferdinand. 8 years old today. Lets hope there’s plenty of running in those legs yet because your football club needs you.
Glory glory Man United
by Rob B