Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday reassured Rio Ferdinand that the defender has a future at Manchester United, arguing he could remain for another two or three years at the club, and said the reason for their difference of opinion over the weekend involving the Kick It Out T-shirt was down to "communication problems".
Ferdinand's contract runs out in June and it was thought that defying his manager on Saturday combined with his inconsistent form and patchy fitness record could have led to his departure in the summer, but the Manchester United manager was in conciliatory mood yesterday ahead of tonight's Champions League home match with Portugal's Braga.
"I think Rio can play for two or three more years," he said. "He is not as quick as he was but that is not a big issue for me. His experience is important and there is no reason he can't stay on. I didn't even realise his contract was up."
That would have been a rare oversight by the United manager, although Ferdinand's form has dipped lately. He was badly exposed in last month's 3-2 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur and was at fault for Stoke City's second goal on Saturday, one that Ferguson described as "slack".
With Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all injured, Manchester United are desperately short of central defenders and, however long Ferdinand chooses to remain in football, he will never be more valuable to Ferguson than he is now – even though he is not the footballer he once was.
The Manchester United manager has successfully cajoled Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (left) to extend their careers longer than either might have anticipated. Nevertheless, he conceded yesterday that Ferdinand had issues with injuries that did not confront either Giggs or Scholes.
Ferguson's statement that he ought to have consulted Ferdinand before insisting that every member of his squad wore the Kick It Out T-shirts on Saturday, has defused a row that, had it continued, would have disrupted preparations for United's game at Chelsea on Sunday, one in which Ferdinand will play. "The issue," Ferguson said, "is resolved."
Nevertheless, he reminded Ferdinand that it was "important he airs his grievances to the right people through the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] or the FA [Football Association]."
Ferguson added of Ferdinand: "He has different issues from Paul [Scholes] or Ryan [Giggs] in terms of injuries over the last couple of years. He is still a great footballer and, even at 33, there is no reason why he can't stay on. We have always adopted that policy of offering one-year contracts, so we will see as the season progresses.
Ferguson went on to explain the "communication problem" with Ferdinand. "I spoke to Rio," he said. "The issue is pretty simple. He felt I should have spoken to him on Friday and I didn't anticipate there would be any problem in the dressing room as far as the T-shirt was concerned.
"I have listened to the conviction of Rio and I think it is quite compelling. I can understand his stance.
"But I think you are always stronger as a union. There's more solidarity than as a single unit.
"Obviously, as the manager of the club when you lay down policy you don't want to see it being ignored. That's where my anger came on Saturday. But we have resolved the situation, there are no lingering problems and we move on. That is the end of the matter."
Ferguson also explained his decision to rest Ferdinand, eager to avoid headlines suggesting the player had been dropped for tonight's game. "Tomorrow, so your false teeth don't fall out, I am not playing Rio," he said. "We have a game at Chelsea on Sunday, which is a big one for us, so we will leave two of the older players, Rio and Patrice Evra, out tomorrow."
Fights with Fergie
David Beckham: The final straw in their deteriorating relationship came in the dressing room after an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in 2003, when he kicked a boot which hit Beckham above the eye. Beckham was sold soon after.
Roy Keane: Quickly ushered out of Old Trafford in November 2005 after Keane's infamous rant on MUTV, which has never been broadcast.
Jaap Stam: Sold by Ferguson in 2001 after Stam made controversial comments in his autobiography, including that he had been tapped up by United.