Rio Ferdinand has written a letter to his 12-year-old self to give advice for his career ahead. As a kid, Rio used to play with older and bigger boys, who kicked lumps out of him, but he starts the letter by telling himself to keep on walking to the pitch to gain the experience that will help him for the years ahead.
This segment looks at his time at United but you can read it in full at The Players’ Tribune.
When you line up on the touch line with your England strip on for the quarterfinal against Brazil, you’re going to be bursting with emotion. You’ll look over and see just … pure fucking legends, man. Ronaldo. Rivaldo. Ronaldinho. You’ll look up in the stands and see your mum, your dad, your girlfriend, your friends and family.
And then the national anthem’ll start.
You know that tough, never-cried kid from Peckham?
He’s gonna start welling up and crying right there and then. And it’s gonna do you in. You’ll have no impact on the game whatsoever. Before it even started, you’ll have already took yourself out of it. Out of where you needed to be — focusing on the game.
England will lose, 2-1.
When you walk off the pitch, you’ll tell yourself something that will change the rest of your career.
From this day, I will never, ever enjoy or get involved in the emotions of the game.
It’s a tough one, but this realization is perfectly timed. Because a club is gonna come calling after the World Cup that will be the place for this mentality.
And you’re ready for this call. Because after that summer, it’s going to be time for something else. The need to win. That’s what’s going to drive you now. The hunt for hardware.
It’s not going to be about enjoying football. It’s not about having fun anymore. No. This time, enjoy the work. Enjoy the graft. Enjoy the competition.
With Manchester United, you’re gonna win.
Why? Because you’re going to be with players who are just like you’ve learned to be. Players who won’t get caught up in the hype, in the attention, in the drama. Players who will sit in the dressing room, even after a big win and say, “Worked hard, man. Three points. All right, who we got next week? Who’ve they got at center-forward?”
That’s the mentality through and through at Old Trafford. Giggs. Scholes. Beckham. Ronaldo. Rooney.
On to the next.
You’ll have sat across from these United lads at England camps before you joined the club. And you’ll look at them and what they’ve done.
Fuck, man, he’s got medals. And I ain’t got nothing.
You’ll feel like your hunger was made for Old Trafford. Be a sponge and take it all in. On your first day, go into the changing room and look around.
He’s got three Premier League titles.
He’s got four.
He’s got five.
He’s got two.
I need to get to work. Now.
Look at the guys you’re playing with now. Because they’ll be looking right back at you, expecting you to step up.
During one of your first training sessions with United, the ball will come to you. You’ll play to the right back, who’s about 10, 15 yards to your side. And then you’ll hear Roy Keane.
“What you doin’? This is Manchester United!” he’ll scream back at you. “Take some chances! Pass the ball forward!”
For the next couple weeks, you’ll walk around thinking, What the fuck’s he chattin’ about? He’s fucking crazy….
But that’s the edge. That’s how you win — consistently. By taking chances. Not just the strikers, but the center halves, the center backs, all need to create. So take those risks, put the ball through the lines.
You’ll know how to work hard. It’ll be just like going up against those guys at Burgess. Except this time, you’re not the skinny boy anymore.
At United, you’re going to learn from the best. And there’s a standard there. You ain’t just going to go there and fanny your way through. If Keane and Giggsy are staying out to train for an extra 20 minutes, then you, with zero medals better be out there for longer. And get out earlier than them. That’s the work ethic at United. And it’s going to pay off.
That first Premier League title though? It’s like Mount Everest, man. It’s going to be a draining, long, hard, fought-out season. The injuries, the travelling.
But that’s why you came to Man United. And as soon as it happens, you and the lads are already looking for the next one.
When you win the League Cup, the whole stadium will go mental. You’ll get back to the dressing room and with the mood in there, you’d think you just drew a game in the Premier League. The fucking loneliest person in the room will be the trophy. Just sitting in the corner. No one taking pictures of it or nothing. You’re all just quiet and going on like it was a normal game.
Some other guys will come through the club and think it’s strange. But this is what will make you lads successful. Not the fucking parades that everyone’s throwing nowadays. Parades? Parades?
You’re not playing for fucking a parade, man.
You’re not playing for newspapers to write about how great you are.
You’re playing for trophies.
So play for the big one. Champions League. I’ll admit it, there’s going to come a point when even you think this one just ain’t going to happen. Getting knocked out at the semi-finals with Leeds and then again with Man United — Maybe, this ain’t meant to be, you’ll think.
But here’s the thing, that 2008 squad will be unstoppable. Mentally. Physically. Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo up front. Scholes, Carrick, in the midfield. Vidić on our backline. Van der Sar as goalkeeper. You’ll know how to pick and choose your punches against the top teams. It’ll be an all-out blitz against the mid to lower clubs.
And all you have to do is give the boys a chance to score. Be the foundation for them. Be the captain you’ve worked hard to become.
You’ll know how to beat Barcelona. You’ll know how to beat Chelsea. You’ll know how to win.
And you will, mate. You’ll win the Champions League.
After the match, you’ll be on the bottom of the stairs and Sir Bobby Charlton will come up to you. Legend.
“Not many have done this,” he’ll tell you. “You’re only the third captain to lift this trophy here. What an achievement. Make sure the lads understand that. And go back out and do it again.”
Right afterwards, when you get to the changing room, you’ll go up to the manager.
“Who we buying? Who we buying next year? We gotta get somebody. We need some players, we need to make sure we keep going now. We can win this again next year.”
“Rio, for fuck’s sake, enjoy the party, man.”
“I can enjoy it when you tell me that we’re gonna get more players, please.”
This why you came to United. It’s been all about trophies. No emotion. Just winning.
But, Rio, he’s right.
So give yourself this one moment. This one release. Let the enormity of it hit you. Just for a few seconds. The best in Europe.
And of all the matches you’ll go on to play, if there’s one thing you can do, just one thing you can change, tell the gaffer to play Rooney and Ronaldo at the FA Cup semi-final against Everton. There’s a semi-final or something coming up and he wants to make sure everyone is rested. So he’s shuffling the squad to keep people fit. I get it.
But I know, I know if they played, there would’ve been another cup at Old Trafford. So say that to the manager. The FA Cup — it’ll be the one trophy that eludes you in your career. And looking back, this would’ve been your best opportunity to get it.
So tell him. Tell him to put them in or it’ll fucking piss you off forever.
Success, mate, it’s all you’ll care about when it comes to your career.
Eventually, you’ll soak it up. You’ll have the chance to look around and think, This is daft, how did this all happen?
You’ll be happy, and you’ll be ready to finish. You’re just a kid now, it seems like it’ll never happen, but at some point, your body is just going to break down.
Listen to it.
Don’t embarrass yourself. When you walk off a pitch, not getting a single touch of a ball, know it’s time to stop clinging on. Young lads will start turning and trying to face you up. Little fucking shits, man.
Five, six years ago you would’ve not even looked at me.
You would’ve given that ball to someone else.
You actually wouldn’t even play on my side of the pitch.
Rio, man, this is the time. There are going to be other offers — offers to play in the States. You’ll think maybe you can get that feeling of winning back just one more time. Maybe if you push yourself hard enough. Maybe if you go back to United, you reckon….
Don’t reckon. Walk away.
Do you want a lasting memory to be fucking chasing a fucking 18-year-old up the pitch? No way, man. You need to leave it. Do it for yourself, do it for the young lads coming up. It’s their turn now.
But before you do, do one thing for me. After your very last match, just stay in the dressing room for a little bit longer. Because that’s what you’re going to miss the most. Sitting in there with the lads, after the satisfaction of a win and asking, “Who’s next?” That’s the moment — the feeling — you’ll want back more than anything.
Sit there and think about it all, because it’s fucking mental. We’re from Peckham, man, all this ain’t meant to happen.
But it does. You done well.
But for right right now, just keep your head down and keep walking.