Rio Ferdinand has Manchester United future insists Alex Ferguson

 

Sir Alex Ferguson insists Rio Ferdinand still has a major role to play at Manchester United even if his days as an automatic presence on the team sheet are over.

Thirty-three on Monday, Ferdinand was unusually singled out by Ferguson for criticism in the wake of what the United manager felt was kamikaze defending against Manchester City nine days ago.

Given much-publicised injury problems that date back almost three years and the fact Ferdinand has been omitted from starting line-ups against Arsenal, Norwich and on Saturday at Everton this season, in addition to losing his place in Fabio Capello's England squad, it is understandable why so many people are writing the £29.1million star off.

It seems Ferguson is not one of them.

As with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, Ferdinand will have to accept he will not play every game. Indeed, he only returns for tomorrow night's Champions League encounter with Otelul Galati because Nemanja Vidic is suspended.

However, providing Ferdinand can adapt his game to take into account the fact he can no longer rely on pace to get himself out of trouble, Ferguson feels the player, who will celebrate 10 years at United next summer, still has plenty to offer.

"Rio is almost 33 and has obviously lost the yard of pace he had five years ago," said Ferguson.

"But that doesn't mean he cannot tailor his game a different way.

"He cannot rely on his pace now. That is obvious.

"But he is still one of the best footballers in the country in terms of his use of the ball. He still has great presence. He can still tackle and can still head the ball."

Ferdinand is such a competitive individual, he may bristle at suggestions he is no longer capable of previous feats.

Indeed, with another England squad due to be announced on Sunday for the friendlies against Spain and Sweden, Ferdinand may be about to receive another reminder his status has slipped.

But, it is not so long ago he was a commanding presence alongside Jonny Evans at Liverpool and with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones also on the Old Trafford payroll, Ferdinand's experience could be crucial in the development of players who have vast potential but so far have little to match his tally of five Premier League titles.

"We have all faced that decisive moment in your career when you have to realise that you have to change your game," said Ferguson.

"Rio is maybe realising now that he has lost that electric yard.

"He is still one of the best footballers in the country in terms of the use of the ball.

"I explained to Rio the other day it is simply that we have young centre-halves coming through and I am very happy to have the defenders we have and I hope I can keep them together for a long time."

Ferguson certainly seemed happier discussing Ferdinand than his own longevity, which reaches 25 years at United this weekend.

It is a quite incredible milestone and surely one that will not be surpassed at such a high level of the game.

Otelul's Dorinel Munteanu will struggle to emulate it given the rapid turnaround in coaches at his present club.

"A good president," was Ferguson's wryly-delivered advice when asked what Munteanu required to achieve even half his level of success.

"I have not really reflected on it. All I can say is I am looking forward to the next 25 years."

Rival managers and journalists alike may shudder at that prospect.

However, with his side currently occupying second spot in Group C behind Benfica, Ferguson cannot afford to be distracted from the immediate task of steering his side into a more advantageous position from which to clinch their customary position in the knock-out phase.

Indeed, it appears not even the presence of only two United players - the single English representative Wayne Rooney and Nani - amongst the 23 contenders for this year's prestigious Ballon D'Or prize, compared to eight from the Barcelona side that defeated them in last season's Champions League final, has merited too much attention.

"I have not seen the list but the fact there are seven Spanish players tells you everything," he said.

PA

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