Rio Ferdinand has confirmed he is leaving Manchester United after 12 years, after the club decide against offering him a new contract.
Having impressed at the 2002 World Cup Finals, Ferdinand followed in the footsteps of the likes of Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen and Eric Cantona by swapping the white of Leeds United for the red of their archrivals. The fee of £29.1million remains the most paid for a defender in English football, yet few can deny it represents sound value.
Now 35, the former West Ham United youngster can look back at his time at Old Trafford with great satisfaction: six Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League and two League Cups are amongst his trophy winning collection, with the FA Cup the only notable absentee. Added to this the fact that only 16 players have represented the club more than the 455 times he pulled on the jersey, and his status is well cemented.
Out of contract this summer, United have decided against offering Ferdinand fresh terms as they continue their transitional period. Confirming his departure, the defender said on Monday: “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how successful we would be during my time here. Circumstances didn’t allow for me to say goodbye the way I would have liked but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my team-mates, staff, the club and the fans for an unbelievable 12 years that I’ll never forget.”
That Ferdinand is leaving the club is perhaps not the biggest surprise, given his age and recent injury record: he started just 12 times in the Premier League this season. What his exit will do, though, is leave the new United boss, widely expected to be Louis van Gaal, with a huge void of experience to fill as Nemanja Vidic has already signed for Internazionale whilst Patrice Evra, the France international, is also out of contract next month.
Maybe what is more surprising is that Ferdinand has also announced his intention to play on. One can only assume he has set his sights on a move abroad, most probably to the United States, rather than put his soon-to-be 36-year-body through another campaign in the Premier League, where his former employers at Upton Park are said to be keen.
Looking back at his time at United, it is fair to say he will rank amongst the best ever central defenders in the club’s recent history. Paul McGrath, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Jaap Stam can all be considered greats, yet none more than Ferdinand. His calm assurance when carrying the ball from the back four was one of his main assets, and a quality so often absent from English players of his position. In his prime he also possessed lightning speed, yet his ability to read the game meant he was often able to cope without this with his advancing years.
But despite his qualities, he is unlikely to ever be favourably looked upon compared to say, Stam or Vidic, who were hugely popular amongst the fans. The reason? For starters, his lengthy suspension for missing a drugs test hit the team hard, and his flirtation with Chelsea at a time when he was at loggerheads over a new contract resulted in a number of balaclava wearing United supporters congregating outside his mansion to discuss the matter in person. And whilst he never gave anything less than 100 percent on the pitch, his business activities off it were at times perhaps ill-advised.
Yet in years to come Ferdinand will be remembered for his footballing ability only, and judged on this, he deserves to be considered as a true Manchester United great.