Rio Ferdinand : 'When everyone else was signing players, I was thinking: what are we doing?'

Rio Ferdinand gives Tim Rich his verdict on United's lack of summer spending, the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez, John Terry's dilemma and the new threat from Manchester City

They may both be central defenders – perhaps even two of the best central defenders playing in world football – but there are many differences between Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.

No matter how hungover he was on his stag do, the Chelsea captain would never agree to lounge by the poolside in a tight orange T-shirt that barely covered his nipples and ludicrous denim shorts.

You need confidence, what in Tel Aviv they would call chutzpah, to carry off that kind of thing, and Terry, who after two championships and a European Cup final still obsesses about the player ratings he sees in the newspapers after each game, does not have Ferdinand's brand of confidence. But then, not many people do.

Currently on the South Korean leg of Manchester United's pre-season tour, Ferdinand looks back to June and the trip to Tel Aviv, an intriguing choice of location perhaps for a stag do. It's hardly Prague or Krakow. "My mates woke me up at seven in the morning and said this is what you have to wear. I had a towel round my shoulders but beneath that was a tight-cropped vest. Lovely stuff."

Terry would rather die than be photographed in that kind of garb, but as the summer unfolded, a summer that Ferdinand admitted he spent worrying who Manchester United were going to sign, there was the intriguing prospect that he and Terry might become neighbours, as the England captain pondered an offer from Manchester City that amounted to a salary of nearly £15m a year.

"JT is his own man, he will make his own decisions, everyone makes their own decisions in life. If I were leaving Manchester United, I wouldn't go to a team I felt wasn't capable of winning trophies or finishing in the top three. Whether that is Manchester City I don't know. The more I think about it, abroad is the only place I can see myself going. I wouldn't want to be playing against Manchester United every week. I would rather go away. But sitting here I can't see myself leaving."

It is possible to see Ferdinand as football's equivalent to Jamie Oliver. There is the same savvy London blokeishness and the same kind of social concern – Ferdinand has his campaign against knife crime and his investment in a football academy in Uganda to match Oliver's restaurant staffed by YTS trainees. They both have their own magazine, although Rio's #5 is online and has rather less about polenta and sun-dried tomatoes and rather more about rap star 50 Cent and Mickey Rourke.

The current issue has footage of Cristiano Ronaldo, the jewel that was Manchester United's, and the impact of whose loss will be keenly studied in both Liverpool and Chelsea. The two had a close relationship but Ferdinand is philosophical about its ending.

"We shouldn't be bitter towards Ronnie," he says. "If you think that a career lasts 10 to 12 years, he gave six of them to Manchester United – half of his career to one club after coming from Portugal. You couldn't cast a shadow over his dream to play for Real Madrid. Playing for Manchester United is the holy grail for some people, and some people won't understand him but he is a great lad and will always have an affinity with the players here. In time people will see that."

Ferdinand's wedding to long-time girlfriend Rebecca Ellison this summer might have dominated his thoughts but he does admit to worrying about Manchester United as news came in that Real Madrid had spent £166m on Kaka, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema while Manchester City were scooping up what was left.

"I am a great badgerer of the coaching staff," he said. "I always want to know what's going on. Everyone was signing players and I was thinking to myself: 'Well, what are we doing?' But, then again, if we have to go into a season with the same nucleus of players, I wouldn't have been bothered. What reassures me is that there is so much more to come from our younger players – the Machedas, the Welbecks, the Evanses.

"Initially, I was surprised when Michael Owen signed. But I was thinking like a fan. If you look at his stats, he has played a lot more games than I thought. And after seeing him close up I am very confident we have signed the right type of player. You can understand why the manager has put faith in him.

"One thing I'm sure of is that Ronaldo going will bring the best out in our players. We know he scored a lot of goals in the last two seasons for us, especially against the lower teams in the league. He'd get a couple of goals a game against them on a regular basis. But we've got players who we know are capable of doing that and now the way the team shapes up, whoever's on the pitch, I'm sure they can go out there, do that job and fill the gap.

"That longevity and that time we've had together as a team to learn each other's games and personalities is a big weapon, and one we have to use. We've got a great mentality at the club, winning three titles on the bounce. That says it all, we have the mentality of winners, we want to win all the time."

Ferdinand is more conciliatory towards Carlos Tevez and Manchester City than others have been at Old Trafford, but what concerns him most is how Manchester United respond to a season which, despite three trophies, came to a juddering and dispiriting end in the European Cup final.

"Only time will tell with Manchester City," he said. "In some ways it's exciting that someone outside the usual top four has money to spend and might be a threat. But only time will tell because money is not the key to success. Not always.

"I don't see Carlos going as a defection. He was a free agent to make his mind up after his two years were up. It was down to him to decide but, looking at it from the outside, it seems a complicated issue in terms of communication between the two parties. If they weren't saying the same things, a deal could not be made. But I am more interested in how we perform.

"After the final [against Barcelona] I thought we'd had a bad season, that was my first reaction but, as time goes by and days and weeks pass, you judge it with a clear head and realise it was successful. We got three trophies and reached a second successive Champions League final.

"But when you travel around in the summer you are never too far from a news stand and I would normally buy a sports magazine but this time I didn't. I was to-ing and fro-ing about whether I could have done this or that but it is time to put it to bed. I'm over it, looking ahead."

First line of defence: Who is the world's best centre-back?

*Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)

Remains the world's most expensive defender at circa £30m back in 2002. Ferdinand led United to a third straight Premier League title last season, having formed a formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic.

*John Terry (Chelsea)

The England captain has won two Premier League titles after coming through the ranks at Stamford Bridge. Roman Abramovich's millions have built a side around the 28-year-old Blues captain.

*Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

Described by Terry as the best defender in the world in 2008 following Carragher's international retirement. His consistent performances were key in Liverpool's most sustained title push in years last season.

*Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

Real paid €27m for Ramos as a 19-year-old in 2005, and he's gone on to be an ever-present, winning two titles as well as the 2008 European Championship with Spain.

*Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

The 24-year-old Italian centre-back has become a permanent fixture in the national side and is seen as the heir-apparent to 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro.

*Lucio (Internazionale)

The 2002 Brazilian World Cup winner joined Inter after leading his country to Confederations Cup success last month, scoring the winner in the final.