Are Rio’s days at the top numbered?

Rio Ferdinand limped out of Man United’s Premier League opener against West Brom on Saturday with a hamstring injury, the latest in a long line of injuries that are starting to curtail the one time England captain’s career. At 32 years of age, with his bones creaking more every season, it is certainly within reason to question just how long Ferdinand has left at the top?

A combination of knee, hamstring and back injuries have ensured that Ferdinand has featured in just 31 league games in the past two seasons. He has failed to start more than 25 league games in each of his last three seasons and he is certainly in danger of falling down the pecking order for both club and country. His latest injury is expected to keep him on the sidelines for between five and six weeks, which is a large enough period of time this early on in a campaign in which for another player to make their mark.

Chris Smalling has long been seen as the heir apparent to Ferdinand for both United and England and rightly so. He appears to share the same unflustered temperament and composure on the ball as Ferdinand and he has time on his side at just 21 years of age. However, the recent emergence of Phil Jones at United is also worth considering.

Jones was unexpectedly pursued by Ferguson this summer when for all intents and purposes a centre half did not appear to be at the top of the agenda. Ferguson himself admitted that he moved for the former Blackburn man a year or so early simply to keep him out of the clutches of his rivals Liverpool and Arsenal.

This all begs the question, if Ferguson didn’t have such reservations about Ferdinand’s fitness over the course of a long campaign, would he have moved for Jones so soon? Ferdinand has already lost the captaincy of both his club and country to both of his respective defensive partners in Nemanja Vidic and John Terry and it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that due to the increased competition for places, alongside his blighted injury record, that this may well be Ferdinand’s final season as a United regular.

At the moment, if Ferdinand is fit, he plays. It is that simple. He’s the best defender of his generation. But time has a way of creeping up on us as the old adage goes and with Ferdinand spending just as much time now on the treatment table as he does out on the pitch, I can only envisage seeing his role being further diminished in the future.

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