Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has raised the prospect of Rio Ferdinand joining Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in the bracket of players who represent United deep into their thirties, as the club prepare to offer him a new contract.
The 33-year-old, whose current contract expires next year, has had no contact from United about a new one but the club are understood to be ready to open discussions before the start of next season – a remarkable turnaround for a player who felt his United career was probably over last year after two injury-wrecked seasons.
Ferguson, who is without Nani and Michael Owen to face Fulham at Old Trafford tonight, offered his most gloomy prognosis on Ferdinand's injury problems one year ago last week, suggesting that 15 years of competitive action might be taking their toll. In November, Ferguson said that he must change the complexion of his game as he "cannot rely on his pace any more, that is obvious".
But Ferdinand has done precisely that, proving a critical defensive asset as he has missed only four of United's games since the turn of the year. "It's not surprised me in the sense that he's still young for a centre-back," Ferguson said. "In normal terms you would expect a centre-back with his athleticism to play well into their thirties anyway. But he had the back problem, which we all know about. So we've had to manage that and by managing it properly he has adapted really well to it. I think it's all down to how he feels physically and what he is doing at the moment is good."
Though Owen's setback with a thigh injury raises the prospect of him having played his last game for United, Ferguson has suggested he may feature next month. "He came back into our training a couple of weeks ago and then he did some physical work with the sports science team and overdid it," the manager revealed. "But he's back in synch again and he should be joining us next week. He will be a really welcome addition to our squad, even if it were to be for the last few games of the season."
Fulham's manager, Martin Jol, says Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangeland will be offered extensions to their contracts, which will soon enter their final year. "We are talking to players and we have got time on our side," he said.