The Andy Cole Column: I know Rio – and I know he will prove his critics wrong

Fired Up!

The best footballers will always manage to find a way out of a slump, and Rio Ferdinand, without doubt a world-class player, will do just that. I know what it's like to be on the end of whipped-up furore about form, and since I also know Rio well, I find some of the nonsense being spouted about him – that he can't do this or that any more, that his place in South Africa is threatened – deeply depressing.

Rio's recent dip is notable and subject to scrutiny precisely because he's been so very consistent for so long at the highest possible level. Not that you often hear that acknowledged.

I've spoken to him a few times on the subject and of course he's aware that he has been struggling. But there are mitigating circumstances, mainly injuries. Rio turns 31 on Saturday, and a few knocks are inevitable and will come along more frequently when a player passes 30. That's a fact acknowledged by everyone, including Rio and Sir Alex Ferguson. But it's a surmountable problem. Rio is certain that when he's physically right – and he will be, soon – he'll have the necessary run of games and run of form to put this behind him.

Pundits speaking or writing a lot of knee-jerk rubbish won't help. That's not to say that the fans or anyone else shouldn't be able to say what they like – it's part of the game. But believe me, nobody puts pressure on a player like himself.

I certainly did, during my dips in form, as I perceived them, which were too frequent to list. I had them at Manchester United, Newcastle, Blackburn, every club, you name it, every season. They happen to everyone, regularly. It's not a question of capability but the inevitability that all footballers will experience peaks and troughs. And those operating at the highest level, under the most scrutiny, will find those occasions under the microscope.

As a player, you look within yourself to turn it around. And you care about the verdict of just one person besides yourself: your manager. If he's picking you, end of story.

How many times have we seen people almost totally written off – Ryan Giggs had it two years ago. So many "experts" said he was past it. That's the same Giggs who's now playing some of the sweetest football in the league.

Darren Fletcher had it too, in the not too distant past. The critics said he wasn't fit to wear the United shirt. That's the same Darren Fletcher who is now part of United's fabric – and an awesome contributor. Sir Alex himself was in the same boat a few years back – people said it was time for him to pick up his pension.

I'd be surprised if the criticism hurts Rio too deeply, and even more surprised if he isn't at the heart of England's defence next summer, and that this period will be forgotten. He'll respond by proving his critics wrong.

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar

Knicks are my American dream but the Yankees just make me yawn

I'm excited that the 2009-10 NBA basketball season is under way because I've got a long-standing appointment with the New York Knicks that I'm finally going to fulfil. I won seats to a Knicks game of my choice at a charity auction ages ago and haven't yet used them.

I'm really into basketball, having played as a kid, but I've never been to a live NBA game and now intend to see the Knicks in the Big Apple before the end of the year.

Not all American sports float my boat, though. It's the World Series at the moment, which is a big deal to some people, but frankly I just don't get baseball. What is the point?

Why's it called the World Series when only America cares? And what's the attraction in hitting a ball – but only every so often – and then trying to avoid being tagged while being chased round bases? It's like rounders. Yawn.

Now cricket, that's a proper sport. My dad, Lincoln, comes from the West Indies, where the first three sports are cricket, cricket and cricket. I was raised on it. If it had been up to my dad I would never have played football, just cricket. I follow the international game. England, obviously. And the Windies, again, obviously. When they play each other, my support goes to ... well, let's just say I sit on the fence.

Why this season is best in years

With more than a quarter of the Premier League season gone, the goals are still flying in at almost three per game. It's absolutely fabulous. It's not just the new ball either. It's all-out attack, loads of exciting games, and the most interesting campaign in years. With results like Chelsea losing at Wigan, anything can happen. But my money's still on Manchester United for the title.

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