Rio Ferdinand says Manchester United will miss Gary Neville humour

Rio Ferdinand is the latest big-name Manchester United player to heap praise on retired team-mate Gary Neville.

The veteran right-back quit the game earlier this month and has already started working with United's academy players in an effort to complete his coaching badges before deciding what to do with the remainder of his life.

Neville acquired the reputation of being a militant presence in the dressing room - he advocated strike action over Ferdinand's omission from an England squad immediately after it was revealed the centre-half had failed to turn up to a drugs testing session, which ultimately saw him landed with an eight-month ban.

However, Ferdinand has seen a different side to Neville. And he accepts Neville, who celebrates his 36th birthday today, will be missed around Old Trafford.

"Gary was tremendous," said Ferdinand.

"He had great determination and drive and could deliver fantastic crosses.

"I remember the first time I joined up with an England squad, Gary would be doing his own stretches whilst the manager was talking to the players before training.

"People used to take the Mickey out of him for that. But it just shows you the length he would go to in order to maximise his potential.

"That sort of behaviour earned him a reputation as somebody who was very serious.

"But he was a really funny bloke and we will miss him in the dressing room."

Ferdinand seems unlikely to be in United's side to face non-league Crawley in the FA Cup fifth round at Old Trafford tomorrow.

He has not featured since injuring his groin in the warm-up ahead of United's defeat at Wolves a fortnight ago, although, with a Champions League trip to Marseille looming next Wednesday, Sir Alex Ferguson would hope the 32-year-old is not sidelined any longer.

Changes are anticipated, with goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard hopeful of making his Old Trafford bow.

Ferguson will send his players out with a warning though.

The last twice United encountered non-league opposition, against Exeter in 2005 and Burton Albion 12 months later, they failed to advance at the first attempt, requiring a replay after goalless first meetings.

With such a crowded fixture list in front of his team, Ferguson will not want a second game this time around.