Ferdinand keeps a cool perspective

FA CUP FIFTH ROUND: QPR's coveted striker has a rare sense of football's value. Glenn Moore talked to him `Gerry Francis told me that with belief in myself I could go all the way' `To be involved in the sort of money that is currently being put around is
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It had been the main topic of conversation at that morning's training, and so Les Ferdinand did not really feel like talking about Dublin any more. But it was unavoidable.

Ferdinand was among the England substitutes when the rioting broke out at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday night. Like most of us, he was still trying to take it all in. Unlike most of us, however, he will today be a central figure in a match that is earmarked as a potential source of further trouble.

Ferdinand's club, Queen's Park Rangers, host Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round this afternoon. QPR have a good reputation for the behaviour of their supporters, but it is feared the match could be infiltrated by Chelsea fans, who attempted a pitch invasion when their club was knocked out by Millwall in the last round. Chelsea do not have a game today.

"We have heard rumours, but hope nothing comes of it," Ferdinand said. "QPR has always been a family club where you can take your kids, and we would like it to remain that way. I think what happened on Wednesday was organised. I don't really want to talk about it. I have made a point of not reading the papers or watching it because they did it to get publicity."

But inevitably the memories do not go away that easily, and he recalled: "We had just started warming up when they scored, and things started to rain down around us. We hastily retreated down the other end.

"After the referee called us off, we just sat in the dressing-room. We were all geared up to carry on, but were not aware of what was going on outside. Then someone came in and said there was no way the game was going to carry on.

"Fortunately, I did not have family there, the boys that did were naturally a bit panicky. It was very quiet on the way back. It just leaves you totally numb. Just when things are supposed to be different we have taken a step back.

"We were talking in the dressing-room afterwards about the implications of the game being called off. Does it mean if your side is losing one- nil and you go on the pitch and cause a disturbance it will be abandoned? But it is different in a Cup match. If supporters came on the pitch, the FA could ban a club from the competition."

Ferdinand already has one cup-winners' medal. It is probably the only Turkish Cup-winners' medal in England, and it dates back to the season when his career was transformed.

Ferdinand, a thoughtful 28-year-old, has seven England caps to date, and is regularly tipped for a multi-million pound transfer. Yet six seasons ago he was a failing forward heading for obscurity.

Having been discovered by QPR while playing for Hayes, he had played six goalless matches in two seasons; half of them while on loan to Brentford. Then Gordon Milne, now in Japan but then managing Besiktas, took him to the Turkish club on loan.

"That was my footballing appenticeship. I came in late, at 19, and it was difficult finding myself alongside players I had admired since my schooldays. I was fascinated and overawed. It took time to settle and I was going nowhere.

"I will always be indebted to Gordon Milne; he threw me a lifeline. It was a chance to concentrate on football totally for a year, earn some money, and see what playing in front of big crowds was like.

"They were fanatical - our average home gate was about 25-30,000. It was amazing. In Turkey, everybody supports a team, whether you are a young lad, a grandmother, a father, everybody. Girls go to matches on their own."

Ferdinand also noticed a big difference from England. When Galatasaray played Manchester United, many English fans wanted United to lose, but, he says, "when a Turkish team plays a foreign one it becomes a national game. Everybody supports the Turkish team and wants them to win.

"It was a fascinating year and I made some good friends. I went from being unknown in England to being a hero before I had kicked a ball. In Turkey you can only sign players between seasons, and the first day's training is open to show off the new signings. There were about 35,000 there and the reception I got was amazing - I was thinking: `Is this all for me?'

"I thought: `I can't afford to fail here'. Fortunately, it went really well. I got around 22 goals in about 33 games, we won the cup, and were runners-up in the league. It was so successful I wanted to stay another year, but Trevor Francis had taken over at Rangers, he had heard good reports, and wanted me back.

"In hindsight, it was probably the best thing that could have happened. At the time I did not think so." But Trevor Francis was soon sacked in November 1989, and Don Howe came in. Amid the disruption, Ferdinand played nine games, scoring twice. The following year he got eight in 18, but he only really bloomed with the arrival of Gerry Francis in the summer of 1991.

"I had played under about three managers, and had to prove myself to all of them," Ferdinand said. "When Gerry came I did not think it would be any different. But he let me know he had tried to buy me and get me on loan when he was manager of Bristol Rovers. That gave me confidence.

"He told me that with belief in myself I could go all the way. I believed in him, and listened to him, and things started taking off. It is amazing what confidence does for you. It is knowing that if you make a mistake this week you will not be out of the side next week. It gives you confidence to try things, and when you play like that things tend to happen for you."

They kept on happening for Ferdinand, and in late 1992 he made his England debut, scoring against San Marino. He scored twice in five other games for Graham Taylor but, although always in the squad, has managed just one appearance as a substitute under Terry Venables.

"It is frustrating, but I must have something he likes as I'm in the squad. I just have to be patient and hopefully get the chance and take it. Alan Shearer is the standard, that is what I have to aim at."

Self-improvement has been one of the themes of Ferdinand's career. The desire comes from his teenage days as a part-time player and full-time worker. "I had done a variety of jobs, as you do after leaving school, and was driving a van when I went to QPR.

"When I came to the club, there were boys being released who said to me: `I think I'll do what you were doing, get a job, play non-League', and I told them: `That is dumb. You are in a position where you have everything to gain and you want to give this up and work. You don't know what you are talking about'.

"I think every young professional should spend six months working to appreciate what it is like out there. Look at the attitude of young professionals - and it is not their fault, they don't know any different. They moan about being kept here until two o' clock, yet when you ask them what they are going to do, they usually say they are going home to do nothing.

"Working and playing non-League football makes you realise what you have got compared to what you had, and makes you not want to let the opportunity go."

It is this sense of perspective that has come in useful during this season's constant transfer speculation. Ferdinand was unhappy when Gerry Francis decided to leave Rangers, but says that he and Ray Wilkins, the new manager, have agreed to wait until the end of the season before considering the various bids on the table.

The most widely reported offer is one of £4m from Arsenal, and Ferdinand says: "To be involved in the sort of money that is being put around is very flattering, but there are a lot of aspects to weigh up. I'm sure Ray would like to keep me, I will do what I think is best for my career.

"By the end of season, all the clubs that are interested might be tied up with other people, but I have decided to wait - I have never gone to the manager's door and said: `Is this true?' I have just got on with things.

"It has been unsettling in the past, but it has reached a stage where we joke about it. I came in the other day and Ray said: `What are you still doing here?' I had not seen the papers and asked him what he was talking about. He said: `I thought you signed for Arsenal yesterday'.

Cue laughter. It was a happier end to the conversation than most in football these last few days. One hopes we will still be smiling tonight.

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