Ferdinand takes the England armband

From drugs ban to the England captaincy
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The Independent Online

It has been quite a journey for Rio Ferdinand. Today he takes over as England captain during a World Cup year, six years after a missed drugs test saw him miss out on Euro 2004.

Some might find it ironic that Ferdinand will replace John Terry due to the Chelsea defender's off-field misdemeanours, given the Manchester United defender was forced to miss the European Championships after that missed test halfway through the preceding season resulted in an eight-month ban and £50,000 fine.

Ferdinand is also currently experiencing on-the-field difficulties as United look to reduce his four-game ban for lashing out at Hull striker Craig Fagan during United's recent 4-0 Premier League win.

And, given that a captain must be guaranteed his place in the starting line-up, Ferdinand's form this season has suggested he would be anything but a certain start in South Africa in the summer.

The most notable of a series of mistakes was his foolish attempt to nonchalantly lob Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy late in the Manchester derby, resulting in the Wales striker running almost half the length of the pitch to score a late equaliser in a match United eventually won 4-3.

Ferdinand has also only just returned from a long-standing back injury and many would see Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard as better candidates to wear the armband.

But there is no doubt that on form Ferdinand is one of the best central defenders in the world.

The 31-year-old grew up in Peckham and counted Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona among his early sporting heroes as he sought a life outside the London borough.

"I always as a kid wanted to do something different, I'd get bored very easily - even playing football or hanging around with my mates. So travelling away from home, meeting new people... I enjoyed it," he told The Observer in a 2008 interview.

He turned professional in 1995 after coming through the youth ranks at West Ham, making his debut in 1996.

His form saw him selected for the 1998 World Cup, after he had become the youngest defender to play for England the previous autumn. But he did not play in France, and he missed out on a place in Kevin Keegan's Euro 2000 squad.

But in November of that year he secured a British transfer record £18million move to ambitious Leeds and was part of the side that got to the Champions League semi-final in 2001.

That was enough to confirm the interest of Sir Alex Ferguson and he moved to Old Trafford in July of 2002 for £29.1million as the world's most costly defender, picking up a Premier League winners' medal at the end of his first season.

The trophies dried up after the completion of his ban as United ended the 2004-05 season empty-handed after losing the FA Cup final on penalties to Arsenal.

And things got worse for Ferdinand when he was booed by United fans amid reports he was stalling over a new deal at Old Trafford worth £100,000 a week.

But after penning a new contract he settled into a series of typically assured displays, scoring a goal as Wigan were beaten 4-0 in the 2006 Carling Cup final.

He was part of England's 2006 World Cup squad and has been a key figure in United's march to the last three Premier League titles.

One thing that may prove valuable to Ferdinand is that he has previous experience of captaining his country, having led England in a 1-0 friendly defeat against France in March 2008.

He was also selected as vice-captain by Capello when the Italian took charge but he will know he is sure to face a huge amount of scrutiny following the fall-out from Terry's alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's former partner.

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