Rio Ferdinand issues bold challenge to Alex Ferguson's core values

By taking a stand on Kick It Out the United defender has upset his 'embarrassed' manager's sense of unity

Ever since as an apprentice toolmaker he joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Sir Alex Ferguson has embraced the concept of "one out, all out". Like many of his values, it has stuck with him for life.

When he said he wanted every member of his team to support the Kick it Out anti-racism campaign on Saturday, the Manchester United manager meant exactly what he said.

Rio Ferdinand, like Ferguson an intelligent man whose hinterland of interests stretches far beyond football, would have known precisely what the consequences would be for defying such a request.

In 1960, when as a teenager at the Remington Rand plant in Glasgow Ferguson joined the future Labour minister Gus Macdonald and the young Billy Connolly in strike action, a film was released. It starred Spencer Tracy, like John Wayne one of the Hollywood heroes whom he would see in the cinemas of Sauchiehall Street, and its title was based on the Biblical quotation: "He that divides his own house shall inherit the wind."

It is a principle Ferguson has lived by. It sums up why he almost never criticises his players by name and why he regards any cracks in the club's façade as potentially lethal. His concluding comment in his post-match television interview: "He will be dealt with, don't you worry," would have struck fear into most footballers.

Ferdinand's first manager, Harry Redknapp, said he would have allowed a man who is 33 to make his own choices. Had Ferguson done the same, there would be no story. That, however, is to ignore the tale of a man who, according to Gordon Strachan, once threatened to fine any player who laughed on the team bus after Aberdeen's 4-0 defeat at Liverpool. Ferguson may be one of the largest private donors to the Labour Party but he did not achieve greatness through being a democrat.

He had no hesitation in dropping Wayne Rooney last year after an unauthorised night out on Boxing Day. United lost the next game at home to Blackburn. To drop Ferdinand from Sunday's fixture at Chelsea would be a very big call from a man who has spent a lifetime making them.

The key word in Ferguson's comments was that he was "embarrassed" by Ferdinand's actions. On Friday, he criticised the Reading striker, Jason Roberts, for "standing on a pedestal of his own making" by refusing to wear Kick it Out's T-shirt on the grounds the organisation had done too little to combat the disease of racism.

If he had said this without checking that Ferdinand would wear the shirt, Ferguson was digging an elephant trap for himself. If Ferdinand had given him assurances he would, just as Luis Suarez informed Kenny Dalglish he would shake Patrice Evra's hand last season, the anger is understandable.

The fact that Kick it Out's chairman, Lord Herman Ouseley, is on the board of the Manchester United Foundation would not ease Ferguson's embarrassment. And yet there is a higher principle involved than solidarity. Spencer Tracy's key speech in Inherit the Wind, about an American schoolteacher put on trial for denying the world was created in seven days, says that what distinguishes man from every other animal is his ability to think. "The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, even the sponge is more durable. . ." There is no contract enforceable at United or anywhere else that can tell a man what to think.

There is a requirement to work for the Manchester United Foundation and I have seen Ferdinand doing so in a school in Salford, throwing himself into coaching sessions that went on far longer and contained far more laughter than anyone anticipated. In similar circumstances, Cristiano Ronaldo would spend a lot of time glancing at his watch.

Ferdinand has campaigned long and hard on the consequences of young black men, particularly in his native south London, carrying knives. He has thought long and hard about the consequences of the man alongside whom he played in England's defence calling his brother a "f****** black c***" and whether Kick it Out is simply too close to the football establishment. He has earned the right to think.

Who snubbed shirt?

Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)

Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)

Micah Richards (Man City)

Jason Roberts (Reading)

Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)

Anton Ferdinand (QPR)

Nedum Onuoha (QPR)

Junior Hoilett (QPR)

Djibril Cissé (QPR)

Shaun Wright-Phillips (QPR)

Steven Pienaar (Everton)

Victor Anichebe (Everton)

Sylvain Distin (Everton)

Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City)

Ryan Shawcross (Stoke)

Entire Swansea City and Wigan Athletic squads.

Reading took their shirts off and gave them to the crowd in support of team-mate Roberts.

Champions League: eye on the opposition

* Braga warmed up for tomorrow's Group H visit to Manchester United with a 3-0 Portuguese Cup victory over Leixões, although the scoreline was deceptive. The hosts were taken to extra time after a scoreless 90 minutes, before goals from Portuguese internationals Hugo Viana, Ruben Micael and Eder ensured progression.

champions league eye on the opposition

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable