There are any number of reasons to dislike Rio Ferdinand. From his failed attempt to become football’s equivalent of Mike Murphy in ‘Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups’, to missing a drugs test due to a shopping trip, to kicking female stewards, he really does his best to test the public’s tolerance of him. Not to mention video-recorded frolics whilst holidaying with choirboys Kieron Dyer and Jody Morris amongst others, and a drink driving charge at the age of 18, which postponed an international debut. Before this descends into a rant, I must stop myself here. But you get the general idea. However, more worrying developments for Ferdinand is his on the field performances. His dip in form has been well documented, but is there any way way back for a player that 12 months ago was arguably the best centre-half in world football.
The first 2 and a half months of this season have seen howlers by Ferdinand for both club and country. There was his horrible backpass against the Netherlands before the Premier League got underway slipped under the radar, as it was a rather meaningless game. But the signs were there that all was not right with the Peckham-born defender. It was an error that instantly brought back memories of his younger days at West Ham United, and to a certain extent, Leeds United. The laid-back, careless nature of his game back then threatened to undermine a potentially spectacular career. Whilst his time at Old Trafford has been relatively free of silly mistakes, it is a worry for Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello that his regression doesn’t look like coming to a halt anytime soon.
There is a certain amount of arrogance returning to Ferdinand’s game. This was witnessed again at Anfield. Midway through the first half, he chased down a long ball whilst being pursued by Lucas Levia. Lucas had little chance of getting there, and we all expected Rio to shepard it out of play. But suddenly, he chipped the ball up towards goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Saar’s waist. The Dutchman’s years of coaching in the Acadamey in Ajax certainly benefited him as he volleyed it away, but it was sheer lunacy on Ferdinand’s part. Minutes earlier, he performed one of his patented step-overs on the edge of his own box. Lucas was again hoovering, but Ferdinand this time played on the ground to his keeper. This sloppiness and bravado have long been a thing of the past for him, but for it now to creep back into games, when he is under such intense scrutiny can be viewed in any number of ways.
His comments proceeding Sunday’s encounter with Liverpool were as defensive as I remember from Ferdinand:
“I’m not interested in proving anyone wrong,” Ferdinand is quoted as saying in the Sunday Mirror.
“I’m not interested in what people say about me. I’m just trying to get games under my belt.”
He added: “All I need is a run of games. It’s been a bit strange for me coming in and settling back into it.”
It seems that he is interested in what people are saying. Whilst he boosts a collection of medals that any professional would be proud of, he seems to have a chip on his shoulder. No one is immune to criticism, but Manchester United stalwarts Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville would never come out with such a weak statement. What do they have to prove to anyone? Having amassed a total of 29 league championships between them, and a few European Cups (Scholes and Neville missed a final each), they are still turning out for their beloved Red Devils.
All in their mid-30’s, coming towards the twilight of their careers, they show desire and passion for the club that made them. They are shadows of their former-selves. Scholes found himself overran in midfield on Sunday, with the pressing of Lucas and Javier Mascherano forcing him to concede possession meekly. Neville last started an important United game almost a year ago against Arsenal. Samir Nasri had his most productive afternoon to date for Arsenal, and tormented the full-back until he was subsequently substituted for Rafeal Da Silva. Giggs’ form has hit numerous peaks and troughs over the years but has defied the aging process and common logic to be reigning PFA Footballer of the Year. If this is Ferdinand’s attitude, why doesn’t he hang up his boots altogether? He is not the first high-profile player to hit a slump, and he certainly won’t be the last.
How can he rediscover his form you ask? A chronic back injury has been the catalyst for groin and calf problems for the past year or so. These ailments have serious implications for the way Ferdinand approaches matches. The media and commentators drool over his ability on the ball, and how confident he is when in possession. This remains a great mystery of our time. While being comfortable with the ball, the 2nd coming of Franz Beckenbauer he is not. It’s his postioning, pace, power, proess in the air, reading of the game that makes him an outstanding centre-back. At over 6′ 2” tall, Ferdinands heading ability is possibly the most underrated of all his tools.
It’s time for him to get back to basics. His pace may be on the decline, but even without the burst of acceleration he possesses, he would still have matured into an excellent defender. He is going to have to adjust his game accordingly. Much attention was given to Ferdinand attending the premiere of his film, Dead Man Running, last week, less than 24 hours after returning from Moscow Most of it was negative. Again, his off the field commitments seem to be interfering with his job. Defensive partner Nemanda Vidic isn’t playing at the level he is capable of either. Being the more experienced of the duo, it’s the English vice-captain’s responsibly to help the Serbian back to his best form.
Rio Ferdinand involves himself heavily in charity work, ranging from Uganda, all the way back to his childhood neighbourhood of Peckham. This is to be admired greatly, that he is giving something back to the place he grew up in, and giving something to those who have nothing at all. He is a role model for millions of people, but lets himself down with stupidity such as calling a DJ a ‘f****t live on national radio. It could be a methapor for his football career. If his slump continues, we may only rememeber the bad times. That and getting Gary Neville ”Merk’d”.