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Friday, May 16, 2014

Sports

Football: Rio bravo!

The New Paper | Friday, May 16, 2014

Rio Ferdinand (right, wearing cap) taking photographs upon his arrival at Changi Airport yesterday. He is in Singapore for the SG Game On! Ultimate Selfie Challenge contest.

He flew into Singapore yesterday as a guest of SingTel and Samsung, set to fly the flag for his club in the SG Game On! Ultimate Selfie Challenge, going up against Sergio Aguero in a match-up billed as a Manchester Derby of sorts.

But Rio Ferdinand will no longer be a Manchester United player next season.

Just before he left England for Singapore on Monday, Ferdinand confirmed he was leaving United.

The 35-year-old lost his place in the starting line-up over the last two years due to a series of injuries and it had been widely expected the former England defender would be allowed to quit Old Trafford at the end of this season.

His contract would have been up in July and he revealed he would not be signing an extension.

In a statement on his website, Ferdinand said: "I have thought long and hard over the last few months about my future, and after 12 fantastic years playing for what I regard as the best club in the world, I have decided the time is right for me to move on."

Former teammate Dwight Yorke reacted by labelling the defender as "colossal", while Dion Dublin predicted United would have to spend £60 million ($126m) to find a defender as talented as Ferdinand.

Various reports in England claimed United would sign Borussia Dortmund's talented German international Mats Hummel to fill the void, but the jury is out over whether the next boss at Old Trafford will be able to find a defender as talented as Ferdinand.

United signed him from Leeds United after the 2002 World Cup, making him the most expensive footballer in Britain at £29.1 million. At the time he was still only 23 and regarded as a rising star.

BLOSSOM

Alex Ferguson felt Ferdinand would blossom into a world-class defender.

Over the next few years, Ferdinand did exactly that, becoming a fixture at the heart of the defence for club and country.

He was assured with the ball at his feet. He did not look like a sprinter but could make up ground with his long strides. He was good in the air, read the game well and was a leader in the dressing room.

The tall and elegant centre back won six league titles, two League Cups, one Champions League and a Club World Cup. Ferdinand made 454 appearances, scoring eight goals for United.

Hampered by various injuries, including a worsening back ailment, Ferdinand proved less of a dominating influence in the tail end of his United career, although he still turned in some outstanding performances when called upon.

After guiding United to the 2013 Premier League title in his final season in charge of the club, Ferguson paid the ultimate tribute to his defensive rock, who played 81 times for England.

"Rio Ferdinand has had his best season at the club," Ferguson said. "We have had continual problems with the centre backs being fit. Although we have left him out of certain games because we have managed him the right way, at the most important times he has been there."

The ex-England captain has no desire to retire and is looking for a new club.

He loves the United States and there are reports he could end his playing career in Major League Football.

He may one day return as a coach at United, or take on an ambassadorial role with the Red Devils.

But he will always be remembered for being there when Man United needed him most in 12 magnificent years at Old Trafford.

This article was published on May 14 in The New Paper.

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