columnist Mark Bryans looks at how Rio Ferdinand has evolved into
arguably the best centre back in the world.
A few years ago you would have received quite good odds if
you had walked into a bookmakers to bet on Rio Ferdinand captaining England and
Manchester United. Labelled a drugs cheat even though he never failed a test
Ferdinand was written off, but through his own determination and persistence he
is now arguably the best centre back in the World.
The missed drugs test and subsequent ban could easily have
had an adverse affect on Rio, but he came back and improved his game still
further. When he was a gangly-legged youngster breaking into the West Ham team,
indeed even as his career began to flourish, doubts surfaced as to his
concentration levels. There is certainly no current defender in world football
that has such sublime control on the ball as Ferdinand, but he was often found
guilty of ‘switching-off' and this led to mistakes.
Two major factors in focussing Ferdinand and overseeing his
improvement in the last year are his managers. Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio
Capello are strict disciplinarians and Ferdinand has adjusted into his new,
more mature role very well. He breezes through press conferences because he has
an aura about him which suggests he reads the game so well and can therefore
discuss it with the media. He is always seen barking orders at fellow players
in a very Schmeichel-esque manner,
even if he is not the captain on that day.
Coming back from an 8 months, drug related ban and being in
contention for the full-time England captaincy under a manager such as Capello
is a big achievement. Looking back I'm sure Ferdinand does regret what
happened, but it has certainly helped him get to where he is today.
When Ferdinand leads out England in Belarus tonight the
honour will be etched on his face as he sings the national anthem and he will
lead from the back as he always does. Playing for his country means a lot to
Ferdinand, as his celebrations on Saturday suggested. He could easily have been
chosen over John Terry to be the permanent skipper, but once Terry was
appointed Rio backed the decision and got on with the job.
In May he joined that elite band of players who have lifted
the European Cup for their club and his performances for Manchester United seem
to improve almost every game. Strong partnerships at both club and
International level will have also helped Ferdinand develop as Nemanja Vidic
and John Terry are no slouches themselves!
There will be some people who oppose the honour of captaincy
bestowed upon Ferdinand because of his past but he has been chosen on
footballing factors and nothing else. That is the way it should be and I for
one am happy to see Ferdinand lead out England, and Manchester United. He has
developed from a cocky, sometimes even lazy, footballer into a strong,
determined captain who will always give committed performances as well as
blood, sweat and tears.