Will injury see the changing of the defensive guard at Old Trafford?

Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand is close to achieving 10 years at Old Trafford after his £30m transfer back in 2002. In that time he has become one of the most respected defenders in the world, with five Premier League titles and one Champions League winner’s medal to his name.

But in recent years his availability has fallen alarmingly, playing only 104 games for club and country in the last three seasons and a theory is that his career could well be approaching the end at the top level of the game.

An idea that has been strengthened by the signing of Rio’s natural replacement, Phil Jones in an attempt to safeguard against the 32-year-old succumbing to similar injuries that have already blighted his last three campaigns where he has appeared in less than half the games United have played.

Not only will Phil Jones trouble Rio for a starting place but so will Chris Smalling who emerged as a more than capable replacement alongside Vidic when Rio was out last season. If he falls victim to similar injuries this year, he could well lose his starting place to Smalling and in doing so could end his reign in central-defence at Old Trafford.

There is no doubting his quality as a defender and until his recent booking in England’s European Champions Qualifier draw against Switzerland Ferdinand had not picked up a yellow card since Manchester United’s 4-1 defeat against Liverpool in 2009. An extraordinary disciplinary record for someone playing in the heart of defence.

However his recent record of injuries which started with a back injury aggravated during the 2008 World Club Cup in Japan which triggered a list of muscular aliments, have sidelined the centre-back for too long. These injuries led to Capello ruthlessly removing him as England captain in March.

His desire to play for England has not decreased despite this dismal treatment by Capello over the captaincy. I would think that in order to extend his playing career he should retire from the England team in the coming years especially after the European Championship (if we qualify).

At club level, Man United now look a quite youthful side lacking experience following the retirements of Edwin Van Der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes. So Sir Alex may see Rio as the man to bring to the side this experience that every winning team needs. Carles Puyol at Barcelona is an example that Ferdinand should look to follow as although aged 33, he is still renowned as a world-class defender who leads Barca from the back. Rio could do a similar thing at United this year.

It is tempting to write Ferdinand off as a major force at Old Trafford but maybe he gives the side the experience they are now lacking and could play a Gary Neville role for many years to come. However if he has another year of injuries, with his contract up in 2013, Sir Alex may see a chance to cash in on the defender next summer.

What do you think, is Rio’s experience worth a new contract at Old Trafford or is it time for Smalling and Jones to take his starting berth?

 


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