Rio Ferdinand's time as an automatic choice for Manchester United is drawing to a close, although Sir Alex Ferguson is confident that he can adapt his game and survive at Old Trafford.
The Manchester United manager accepted that Ferdinand, perhaps the most elegant and certainly the most expensive defender he has employed, is now shorn of his former pace. He was sometimes horribly exposed during the 6-1 defeat in the Manchester derby last month, where Ferguson took the unusual step of naming both him and Patrice Evra as experienced defenders who could have done more to prevent the humiliation. Usually, the Scot adopts a policy of collective responsibility.
Ferguson had been angered last season by comments from the former England manager, Graham Taylor, that Ferdinand's "legs had gone". However, the United manager now seems to partially accept that analysis, while arguing the defender's other attributes would compensate.
"Rio is almost 33 and has obviously lost the yard of pace he had five years ago," said Ferguson who confirmed Ferdinand would start tonight's Champions League match with Otelul Galati at Old Trafford. "He now has to tailor his game a different way. He cannot rely on his pace any more, that is obvious.
"We have all faced that decisive moment in your career when you realise you have to change your game. I had to do it myself when I lost my sharpness as a striker. Rio will have to do the same and, if he does, he will be fine."
Gary Neville's unequivocal judgement was that Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who is suspended for this evening's game against the Romanian champions after his dismissal in Bucharest, were the finest defensive pairing of his time at Old Trafford. This season, their only appearance together has been in the opening Premier League fixture at West Bromwich Albion that saw Vidic come off with a calf injury.
Tonight's encounter with Otelul Galati, in which Ferdinand is likely to be paired with his long-term successor, Chris Smalling, should not overly tax United or their back four.
Last month's fixture in Bucharest saw a tired, uninspired display that United settled courtesy of two penalties from Wayne Rooney. Galati, who have averaged a goal a game this season, seldom threatened and have yet to garner a point in Group C.
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