Rio Ferdinand eager to win the playground battle

 

Rio Ferdinand wants to win the Europa League - if only to shut a few kids up in the school playground.

Now a father to three children, Lorenz, Tate and Tia, Ferdinand has discovered that his status as a top class football star for Manchester United and England does not spare him from the cutting comments that are so much a part of school life.

In fact, as the 33-year-old has found to his cost, it makes him a very easy target.

So easy indeed that he cannot resist the odd response.

It's all good humoured of course. But Ferdinand is keen to get the upper hand if at all possible.

"You have to understand, we've still got lives to lead outside of football," he said.

"When you're walking up the path to school, you don't want little kids laughing at you or making fun of you because you've been beaten.

"That's what happens if you lose games or get knocked out of competitions.

"Young kids can be unforgiving. There's nothing in their minds that goes: 'he plays football, leave him alone'. If anything, they're even worse for it.

"And there's still a little kid inside me who has pride and an ego and wants to make sure I can walk up that path and nobody can say anything to me because we've won.

"I know as soon as that feeling goes it's time to pack up my boots."

With a 2-0 advantage from the first-leg in Amsterdam last week, it would appear unlikely Ferdinand will have anything to worry about this week as United look to tie up a Europa League last-16 clash against either Lokomotiv Moscow or Atletico Bilbao by easing past Ajax at Old Trafford on Thursday.

No FA Cup distractions meant he was able to take advantage of a rare weekend off to watch old mate Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid.

However, in joking that he would like to stuff the former world player of the year in his luggage, Ferdinand was admitting the truth of United still missing their one-time star man, sold in 2009 for a world record £80million.

Ronaldo might well have saved United from some of their more damaging losses this term, including that shock Champions League defeat to Basle that condemned the Red Devils to UEFA's second tier tournament.

And, of course, the 6-1 annihilation by Manchester City in the Old Trafford derby, that brought Ferdinand yet more grief.

"Now that they are up there challenging we're seeing more Manchester City kits around town and more people are talking about them," he said.

"You didn't see that years ago. Now we want to shut those people up too."

That City are not only the main obstacle to United's hopes of retaining their Premier League title but remain potential opponents in the Europa League just adds more spice to the latter weeks of the campaign.

In a sense, to have reached such a point is good news for the Red Devils given the doom-ladened predication that accompanied their departure from Switzerland in December.

Ferdinand sensed the mirth of non-United fans and didn't like it.

Two months on, he is able to adopt a more phlegmatic stance.

"You can't sit still or worry about what people are saying," he said.

"At this club it doesn't happen. We just go out there and perform to the best of our capabilities.

"We know we've got fans to go out and impress - we want them talking about us in the right way.

"As players we demand the highest standards of ourselves and if we don't meet them the dressing room isn't a nice place to be.

"You don't want to be in a position where you're going into a game and you're not fighting for titles."

PA

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