Man Utd would be mad to let Rio Ferdinand go now
These are interesting times for Rio Ferdinand. The centre-back’s contract is up in the summer and the rumour mill is already churning away. The persistent chatter is that the 34-year-old is considering a lucrative move to China, where – to judge by the contracts recently granted to Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka – he would be set for a tremendous payday. The question is whether, were he to leave Old Trafford this summer, it would truly be to his team’s detriment. He has lost his place in the England squad – and given the recent indiscreet pronouncements from Roy Hodgson, there is every indication that he will not get it back. Leaving the national cause can sometimes prolong a player’s club career, but it is just as often the first sign that his time in the top-flight may soon be up.
Yet this is just supposition, and we should look to the numbers – provided by Opta – for hard evidence. Analysing Ferdinand’s past seven seasons in the Premier League, the first statistic that stands out is the number of matches that he has missed through injury: once virtually ever-present, he played only 32 league games in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons combined. Though he appeared in 30 league matches for Manchester United last term, he has, unsurprisingly, shown himself to be susceptible to wear and tear.
Yet, as his career moves into its final stages, he is as busy as ever. Having made 20 tackles in 11 matches, he is on course to exceed his previous highest total in the past seven years of 59 tackles in 33 games in 2006-07 – a year that saw United pip José Mourinho’s Chelsea in a typically dramatic title race. Interestingly, he is far more efficient now: in 2006-07 he committed 0.62 fouls per 90 minutes, a figure that now stands at 0.37. However, it must be noted that, after a couple of years when this number was at 0.17 and then 0.16, this is on the rise again.
On the whole, the statistics reveal not so much Ferdinand’s decline as the fact that he is increasingly being called into action. This indicates serious structural flaws elsewhere in the team. United have conceded the first goal in 13 of their 21 matches this season, some coming through the exposure of Patrice Evra’s erratic positioning at left-back and others through players breaking from the heart of midfield.
Fortunately for Ferdinand and his team, Evra’s form has improved markedly in recent games. However, the latter problem persists. This was seen most starkly in a 3-2 defeat by Tottenham at Old Trafford, when Gareth Bale, making a diagonal run across the face of the United defence, comfortably out-sprinted Ferdinand before finishing with a low drive. Bale could outpace most players, even one who, as his manager readily admits, is not as quick as he was, but the real issue here was the gap in the midfield that exposed Ferdinand in the first place.
That gap looks to have been plugged, at least for the time being, with the form of a resurgent Anderson, who against West Ham made his first league start since August. Ferdinand will have welcomed that news, particularly since he has had to cope for some time without Nemanja Vidic, with whom he formed a record-breaking partnership in the 2008-09 season. The absence through injury of Vidic, with whom he kept 14 consecutive clean sheets in that stellar year, must have contributed to Ferdinand’s defensive discomfort. Jonny Evans’ emergence has mitigated this problem somewhat, but the young centre-back cannot yet match the authority of the Serbia international.
The footballing outlook for Ferdinand remains positive, and he is further buoyed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that he has another two or three seasons at Old Trafford in him. Ferdinand may wish to take a Chinese excursion, but the closer he edges towards the door, the louder the cries of “Fergie, sign him up” should become. Manchester United’s squad, though promising, is still largely youthful, and thus has much to learn from one of its eldest and best statesmen. The Old Trafford hierarchy would be very ill-advised to let him go this summer.
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