Oliver Holt is a writer I have criticised time and again for his unashamedly ABU opinions, which get splashed all over the back pages under the guise of being written by the best sport’s journalist in the country. He blamed Fergie for Rooney’s injury prior to the World Cup, claiming Ferguson should have had the balls to sub Wayne off the field for petulance in our game against Chelsea at the Bridge. He has time and again written Ferguson off, claiming that he has lost the plot, and mocked the decision to sell Ruud van Nistelrooy, claiming Ferguson’s judgement was “waning faster than everybody thought”. In May 2006, Holt wrote, “If I was David Gill, I would be getting very, very worried. The last time he allowed Fergie to dip his toe into the transfer market, he blew nearly £10million on two defenders. Patrice Evra can’t get in the team and Nemanja Vidic wouldn’t get in the team at any of the other top four Premiership clubs.” That couldn’t be the same Vidic and Evra who made the team of the year last season, could it?
Regardless, I guess I must like whinging, because I look out for Holt’s articles, just so I can disagree with him. The guy writes so much bollocks where United are concerned, and whether he’s from the blue side of Manchester, or revealed himself as a closet dipper in his stint at the Echo, I find most of what he has to say dry and ridiculous.
Today though, he has written something which makes me think he’s not the complete arse I’ve labelled him as. For maybe the first time, I think Holt watched the same game I did. Rio Ferdinand was immense yesterday at Anfield, showing himself as a real leader, one we have been lacking since the injury of Gary Neville. Neville lives for games like yesterday and it was a concern for United fans whether we would be able to match Liverpool’s determination to get a win. Steven Gerrard, who confessed in his autobiography that he wanted “United to die” (whatever that means), would love to get a result against United, almost as much as Jamie Carragher would. Did we have a player on the field who could inspire victory in our lads the way Gerrard and Carragher would want to for Liverpool? Post match, the answer is a resounding yes, and his name is Rio Ferdinand.
Liverpool didn’t get a sniff at goal yesterday, with shots looking more likely to go out for a throw in rather than find the back of the net. Even when Van der Sar found himself on his arse, after running in to rock solid Vidic, Torres could only head wide with pressure from Ferdinand. On another occasion, Ferdinand shileded the ball out of play, leaving the £20 million man, Torres, with one option. To dive. Rio stirred Van der Sar up following his mistakes, giving him a bollocking before a supportive pat on the back. He was a leading figure for our impeccable defence, and it was this solid defence which allowed us to steal the three points yesterday.
“The Manchester United centrehalf was magnificent,” said Oliver Holt. “The best player on the pitch by a mile. He defied Liverpool time and time again. He led the line superbly, marshalling his back four and trying to cover for Edwin Van der Sar’s series of panic attacks. He marked Fernando Torres out of the game and helped to make Dirk Kuyt look like the willing foot-soldier he is.” Spot on.
Before now, I have questioned whether John Terry is the right man to lead the England team, who gutlessly dropped out of the Euro 08 qualifiers. Chelsea have been guilty and charged for failing to control their players five times in the past year and a half with Terry as their captain, and often at the centre of the fuss. England needed captain Terry for that vital game against Croatia, but unfortunately for the country, he wasn’t fit. He was fit, however, to play a full ninety minutes for Chelsea just three days later. Is that the commitment England want of their captain? Whilst I firmly am a club over country man, I could recognise the importance and understand if Ferdinand, Rooney and Hargreaves want to rush a return to fitness to help out their country. Just look at the efforts Rooney made to make the World Cup last summer!
Oliver Holt has supported a claim for Cappello, who has now taken over as England manager, to entrust Ferdinand with a starting place in the team. Not only this, but to give Ferdinand the freedom to play to his strengths. “Ferdinand was once hailed as the libero who would lead England to a new era of success, a ball-playing defender who would step into midfield and create a host of new options,” says Holt, a point which he has addressed before. Back in September, Holt said, “he’s lost what made him special. He’s lost what made him different. The system chewed him up and spat him out as an Average Joe. He’s a stopper now. He was poor against Germany in England’s last game and even in United’s colours, he is looking increasingly slipshod. Ferdinand has got to the stage where he’s ripe for demotion. Once, it was a shock when he was dropped. Now it has got to the point where no one would be surprised if Micah Richards was moved into his England place.” I responded to these comments, backing Ferdinand for the United captaincy. Today, I’ll go one step further, and suggest it is now time for Rio to take the England captaincy as well.
Rio Ferdinand loves playing for his country and loves winning for whichever team he is playing for. He’s a dreadful loser and does all he can to make sure he is not on the losing side. He would make a tremendous captain for England and the suggestions that the likes of Carragher or Terry, even Woodgate (!) should get in the team ahead of him is absolutely ridiculous.
However, as a United fan, would having one of our players as England captain benefit or damage us? Just as Beckham was targeted by England fans, Ferdinand has endured the same treatment. Once Beckham got the armband, the press backed off, and he was presented in a whole new light. John Terry, despite his despicable behaviour on the field, ripping red cards out of referees’ hands and shouting in their face, is seen as a hero in this country, just the kind of player you’d want to have on your team. He can do no wrong in the eyes of this country, and so maybe I wouldn’t mind Rio receiving the England captain’s treatment.
Regardless, the most important thing to emerge yesterday was the quality of Rio Ferdinand. He has been doubted time and again, criticised, berated, and mocked, but he’s still doing the business for club and country, and the fans don’t seem to appreciate how fortunate they are to have him on their team.
Personality wise, Ferdinand will never be my favourite player. From “you got merked” to delaying on a great contract, the guy just isn’t my cup of tea. But as a player, as a leader, Rio Ferdinand is spot on, and United and England would be fortunate to have him as their captain.
What do you think? Rio for England and United captaincy?