Ferdinand in world of his own... for all the right reasons

Time and technique help the Manchester United defender look at ease on the biggest stage.
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The Independent Football

When Wayne Rooney drove England to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, Rio Ferdinand was on holiday in Miami where he shared a bar with Paolo Maldini and sang songs in homage to the striker who would soon become a colleague and close friend at Manchester United. They are fond if poignant memories for the England international, who would have been present in Portugal but for an eight-month ban from football, and they offer the most plausible answer to the question he found so difficult to answer yesterday. Namely, why does his form rise like the German temperature whenever he sets foot on the World Cup stage?

Ferdinand, the alleged chief raconteur of the England squad, was lost for words when asked to explain the performances that earned him the reputation as one of the finest defenders in the game at the last World Cup and precipitated a £29m move from Leeds to Manchester United.

Japan established the benchmark against which all subsequent expectations of Ferdinand have been measured and, although admittedly on the evidence of only one game in Germany, a similar contribution is anticipated by England again after the 27-year-old played an instrumental role in the preservation of a clean sheet against Paraguays.

At this tournament, there is no doubt he is driven by the thought of what he missed out on two years ago as a consequence of going shopping instead of taking a random drugs test and that here in Germany, amid the adulation, is where he is most comfortable.

"I don't know if World Cups do bring out the best in me, it's weird, I can't even answer that question to be honest with you" said Ferdinand. "I love being involved in massive games. Maybe it's the luck of the teams we are playing against, the defence always seems to have started well in the tournaments I have been involved in.

"I don't know if it's down to technique because there's not a switch you can turn on and off and say that's it. It just happens. People say you get more time at a World Cup as a defender, but strikers close you down in internationals just like they do in the Premiership. The difference here is that it's not so up and down like the Premier League. It's back and forth there and you don't see many teams retaining possession like you do in international football. Maybe that's a factor."

That theory may not be assessed so easily in Nuremberg tonight, where a Trinidad and Tobago team schooled in the lower leagues of British football - with the honourable exceptions of Dwight Yorke and Shaka Hislop - have promised to import a recognisable sense of aggression and commitment to the second game in Group B.

The presence of players from Port Vale, Gillingham and Wrexham in Leo Beenhakker's team has fuelled expectation that an England victory, and therefore a place in the knock-out phase, will be guaranteed, despite the lesson handed out by Northern Ireland last September. "I won't remind the players about Belfast," said Sven Goran Eriksson. "That is too negative."

Ferdinand, who also saw United's late hopes of a championship challenge flounder with a draw at home to Sunderland, added: "You always know there are potential banana skins out there and Trinidad and Tobago are one. The best thing that could have happened to us was for them to get that result against Sweden. If that is not a wake-up call I don't know what is.

"We aren't looking at anything that happened in the qualifiers. If we are going to win the World Cup we are going to play seven hard games and you have to prepare yourself right and put yourself in the right frame of mind. You have to make sure you take everything into consideration be it a team ranked higher or lower. You have to approach all of them in the same."

The second most expensive player in British footballer, pushed from his perch when Chelsea purchased Andriy Shevchenko last month, has taken a pragmatic approach to Saturday's opening defeat of Paraguay and believes the English viewing public will be happy enough if ugly 1-0 triumphs carry Eriksson's men to Berlin on 9 July. It is a realism Ferdinand formed on his sojourn among the common man.

He said: "I know exactly what it is like being a fan. I know the emotions are raw and it is only a couple of years ago when I watched the European Championship from a bar in Miami. I was there with a group of friends, with Wes Brown, Maldini was there, and we were singing Rooney songs. When I have finished playing I will still be going to World Cups and European Championships as a fan. Maybe I would have wanted the country to put on a better show, but as a fan the result means everything.

"When we were out in Baden-Baden none of the fans mentioned the performance. They all just congratulated us on a good result. They'd accept us playing like that in every game if we won it."