Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday reassured Rio Ferdinand that he has a future at Manchester United, arguing he could remain for another two or three years at the club, and said the reason for their difference of opinion over the weekend involving the Kick It Out T-shirt was down to "communication problems".
The defender's contract runs out in June and it was thought that defying his manager on Saturday combined with his inconsistent form and patchy fitness could have led to his exit in the summer, but the United manager was in conciliatory mood yesterday ahead of tonight's Champions League home match with Portugal's Braga.
"I think Rio can play for two or three more years," he said. "He is not as quick as he was but that is not a big issue for me. His experience is important and there is no reason he can't stay on. I didn't even realise his contract was up."
That would have been a rare oversight by the United manager, although Ferdinand's form has dipped lately. He was badly exposed in last month's 3-2 home defeat by Spurs and was at fault for Stoke City's second goal on Saturday, one that Ferguson described as "slack".
With Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all injured, United are desperately short of central defenders and, however long Ferdinand, left, chooses to remain in football, he will never be more valuable to Ferguson than he is now – even though he is not the footballer he once was.
Ferguson's statement that he ought to have consulted Ferdinand before insisting that every member of his squad wore the T-shirts on Saturday has defused a row that, had it continued, would have disrupted preparations for United's game at Chelsea on Sunday, one in which Ferdinand will play. "The issue," Ferguson said, "is resolved."
But he reminded Ferdinand that it was "important he airs his grievances to the right people through the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] or the FA."
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