Back in April 2005, who would have one day predicted we would be talking about Rio Ferdinand playing in his tenth season at Manchester United. Less than three years after joining the club, the then 26-year-old defender was spotted in restaurants with Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, on two occasions that month. Both the player and club insisted they were “chance” meetings and there was nothing in it but it’s fair to say the fans were fairly dubious.
The following month, Rio was booed by fans at the Charlton game, with him still failing to put pen to paper on our latest contract offer.
“We met last week and things were going reasonably well, so hopefully it will be speeded up in the coming days,” said Rio. I do want to stay at Manchester United. I have said that from the beginning. I am happy here and I want to sign, but sometimes these things take time.”
The whole affair brings back memories of a depressing time, with United supposedly in decline, nowhere near as good as Chelsea, the Glazers days away from buying the club, and our best players apparently talking to rivals behind the club’s back.
Rio’s apparent betrayal was particularly painful, given that just the year before he had spent eight months out for failing to attend a drugs test at Carrington. The club and fans stuck by the defender yet the feeling was he was eager to leave us.
The relationship between Rio and the fans has improved since then, with him generally being a more popular figure now, although there are still plenty who haven’t forgiven or forgotten the defender for messing us around. He’s won five league titles and captained us to European Cup success in 2008, making sure his name is in our history books forever.
However, with Rio turning 33 next month, his body seems to have almost packed in and injuries are getting the better of him. A couple of years ago, the thought of this happening was fairly terrifying but now we are much better equipped to deal with his absence. Phil Jones has been incredible and is already a fans’ favourite, Chris Smalling just gets better and better and is eager for a stint in the centre of our defence and Jonny Evans has started to rediscover the form he enjoyed before last season, which was a year to forget for him.
This isn’t to say Rio doesn’t still have a part to play and I would prefer him alongside Vidic for any big game. He has the experience of playing against the best sides, against the best centre forwards, and there’s no amount of young, fresh talent that can make up for that.
Unlike so many players, Rio doesn’t take time to settle after returning from an injury. He comes back ready to play, as if he’s been in the team for weeks, meaning his frequent injuries aren’t as damaging as they could be.
However, when the press claimed this week that Chicago Fire were interested in signing Rio, I’ll admit I was intrigued to hear how much they would offer us for him. The American club has since played down the rumours, claiming that despite “admiring” our defender, “there is no substance” to reports linking him with a move to their club.
Rio’s representative, Jamie Moralee, was singing from the same hymn sheet, insisting that the only place he wanted to be is United.
“I understand the reasons why someone like Rio would be attractive to them,” he said. “There is an appeal on and off the pitch because he could help retain the global status provided by Beckham and Henry. But I must stress, these stories are nothing to do with Rio. We have never discussed anything beyond life at Manchester United because that is all he cares about.”
Rio is on £120,000 a week and if he was honest, he would have to admit that he doesn’t deserve to be up there with the likes of Wayne Rooney as our top earners. He played 19/38 league games last season and 13/38 the season before that. It would be foolish to think he will now suddenly rid himself of all injuries and return to the player who would always play 40-50 games in all competitions.
So, is it time to cash in? I think so, yes. His contract expires in 2013, meaning we would have to be negotiating a new deal between now and the summer. Now over the age of 30, he would be offered just a one year deal at a considerably lower salary than he is on now. Before asking whether the club would offer him a good deal, you should consider whether Rio would be willing to accept it. He could be offered a big money deal on a three or four year contract elsewhere, whether it was in the States or somewhere in Europe. Is he really going to stay at United, earning less, waiting to see if we will offer him another extension every summer? I doubt it and I wouldn’t really begrudge him for that.
You also have to consider whether his ego could stand being on the bench. Jones and Smalling are only going to get better and even when fit, surely it can’t be too long until he’s not first choice anymore. Would he want to spend the last years of his career winning trophies that he knew he hadn’t really contributed to? I can’t see it.
You imagine Rio would buzz off living in LA or New York for a while. Movies, magazines, clothing ranges, record labels… it would be foolish to think that football was the one, true love of his life. If the Red Bulls or Galaxy came in with a great offer would the club or player want to reject it?
Rio is a great player and can still do a job for us but I genuinely think this summer would be a good time to say goodbye, from the perspective of both the club and player. He can have his testimonial and his place in our history, but he isn’t a Giggs or a Scholes, willing to take a pay cut and job insecurity for the sake of being a United player, and why should we expect him to be? He’s been excellent but now it’s probably time for him to leave.