A hit on and off the pitch

Rio Ferdinand was criticised early in his career for a tendency to try a little too much on the ball. But with age and experience he has learnt how to utilise his ability with the ball at his feet, writes Tim Clement.

From ‘punking’ Wayne Rooney to setting records in the heart of Manchester United’s defence, Rio Ferdinand commands adulation from the next generation.

At age 30, there is little Ferdinand has not already achieved on the pitch, boasting a host of Barclays English Premier League titles, FA and English Carling Cups, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League. And the England defender is dete rmined to make use of his fame and fortune, not just by playing practical jokes on his team-mates, but by helping those less fortunate than himself, whether it is supporting the estate he was brought up on in London or underprivileged communities in Uganda.

However, Ferdinand has not always enjoyed such a glittering existence. After showing his immense potential with West Ham and then Leeds United, Ferdinand earned a dream GBP30 million transfer to Manchester United in 2002 and a place in the England backline.

But it all went wrong when a missed drugs test resulted in an eight-month ban, which also saw him miss the 2004 European Championship. He quickly rewarded boss Sir Alex Ferguson for his continued faith upon his return to action by becoming a key figure in United’s defence with his aerial strength and athleticism.

Ferdinand was criticised early in his career for a tendency to try a little too much on the ball, but with age and experience he has learnt how to utilise his ability with the ball at his feet.

The arrival of no-nonsense Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic alongside him for United has allowed Ferdinand to forge arguably the best central-defensive partnership in football. The stats are there to back up that opinion, with United setting a new EPL record as it avoided conceding a single goal from November 8, 2008 until Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz finally breached its defence during United’s 2-1 victory on February 21, 2009 — a remarkable 1,334 minutes.

It is that level of success, coupled with Ferdinand’s love for modern ‘urban’ culture that makes him the perfect icon in the eyes of many of today’s youth. Far from shying away from that tag, the player appears to embrace the fact that he can communicate with youngsters on their level. He missed the high-profile wedding of his England and Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville to help launch his academy in Uganda. He is also involved in an array of UK-based projects supporting youngsters, backing the ‘Respect A Life Not A Knife’ campaign while being a patron of The Prince’s Trust, which offers support specifically to those without access to education, employment or training.

Ferdinand has also set up his own foundation called ‘Live The Dream’, helping young people from deprived areas fulfil ambitions of working in the entertainment industry.

The defender already has his fair share of experience of that industry having presented his own TV show ‘Rio Ferdinand’s World Cup Wind-Ups’, where he replicated the American show ‘Punk’d’ in playing pranks on his England team-mates.

He has also edited a sports magazine, in which he interviewed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Olympic record breaker Usain Bolt.

While his impact off the field cannot be judged by medals and trophies like it can be on it, it is clear the boy from London has not forgotten his roots.

Ferdinand’s ban in 2004 for missing a drugs test left his reputation severely dented. He was asked to take a test at United’s Carrington training headquarters, but left without undergoing the procedure. He did provide a negative sample within two days and has never tested positive for any banned substance in his entire career. However, the English FA took a dim view of the fact he had not attended the scheduled appointment and banned him for eight months as well as fining him GBP50,000.

Ferdinand claims he has only ever had one girlfriend, Rebecca Ellison, who is an accountant. The pair has been together since 2000 and has two sons called Lorenz and Tate.

Ferdinand hardly breaks the footballer’s stereotype with his motor as he can be found driving a Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE, which is the car of choice of England team-mates Gary Neville, John Terry, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. He can also be seen rolling up in the Old Trafford car park in his BMW X5 4.81SE.

Factfile Name: Rio Ferdinand Position: Defender Club: Manchester United D.O.B.: 07/11/78 England caps: 72 England goals: 3 England debut: v Cameroon, November 1997 Moment to remember

The 2002 World Cup was arguably the moment Ferdinand announced himself as a world-class defender with his impressive displays in the centre of England’s defence. It certainly impressed the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, enough anyway for him to part company with GBP30 million.

Moment to forget

In 2007 Ferdinand lost his cool during an EPL match with Blackburn and took out his frustration at a refereeing decision by hammering the ball into the crowd, inadvertently giving one poor woman a sore face as the ball hit her. The defender clearly did not intend to strike her and he immediately apologised to the fan.

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