Rio Ferdinand’s 12th term as a Manchester United player won’t be like the rest. He tells Sport how he sees the beginning of the post-Ferguson era.
Change. It’s a small word, but one that usually has big implications – something Rio Ferdinand and his Manchester United colleagues have been coming to terms with since May 8 2013. That was the date Sir Alex Ferguson called time on his 26 and a half years in charge of the club – and when he left a squad of players that had come to embody his winning mentality wondering who would replace him.
“There’d been rumours about him leaving in the press that morning,” recalls Ferdinand of the day he discovered his manager of 11 seasons was leaving. “So the lads just came in for training and were like: ‘What’s going on? Is he going? Is he staying? What’s happening? We all thought it was just paper talk. But then he came in and announced it in the meeting before training. Everyone was just shocked. It was an emotional moment. When he walked out of the room, everyone just sat there stunned and couldn’t believe it. It was pure disbelief, really.”
Ferdinand and his colleagues didn’t have to wait long to find out who would take his place in what is surely now the hottest seat in football. The appointment of David Moyes was announced days before Ferguson’s final game in charge at Old Trafford, and the outgoing manager used his emotional post-match speech to urge United fans to stand by their new manager.
“It’s a sign of how great a person he is that, on his last day at Old Trafford, he mentioned the new manager and the backing he should get – just like the support he had when he first came through the door,” says Ferdinand. “He was just letting the fans know: don’t follow the trends of other clubs; don’t be too hasty in trying to get people out of the door. Give them time, because that’s what he got – and look what happened.”
With 432 appearances in a United shirt, Ferdinand is second only to Ryan Giggs (on 941) of the current squad – as such, he is one of the senior players whose backing Moyes will be keen to secure in his first season in charge. Even so, he says the 50-year-old Scot ensured his reign began in typical Moyes fashion – with plenty of graft.
“The first few days were double sessions, so he wasn’t messing about, which is good,” he reveals. “And I think it’s welcomed. The manager is lucky that he’s come into a bunch of players who, although they’re are all at different stages of their career, still have the same hunger and desire. I think that’s a reflection on the previous manager, because that’s what he used to demand from the team. This manager has come in to take over and he’ll have new ideas, new philosophies on certain things, and we’ll be there to take it all on board. The aim from all of us, though – including the manager – will be to win trophies. As I said, though, any information he’s giving us, we’re standing there and taking it in, soaking it up like sponges, and trying to better ourselves as individuals and as a team.”
With Giggs taking on the role of player- coach for the new season, and former United left back Phil Neville on board as first-team coach, Moyes won’t be short of options should he need advice from some of the club’s oldest heads. And that’s something Ferdinand believes will be invaluable as the season progresses. “With those two, he has lots of experience right there,” he says. “There’ll be times – like when we’re in the Champions League and over the Christmas period, when we have so many games to play – when the squad needs to be rotated. That’s something we’ve always been successful at, so if the manager needs to ask about how it was done in the past, I’m sure he’ll feel free to do that. That’s why we’re there – to be a sounding board.
“If it was me – if I was the manager coming in after such a successful man like Sir Alex Ferguson – I’d always ask questions. What did he do at this point or that point coming up in the next two months? It’s great that the manager has various avenues he can go down to get that information. It’s invaluable.” While Ferguson’s success has given Moyes the hardest of acts to follow, it has also left him with a club philosophy Ferdinand believes is ingrained in Old Trafford’s every crevice. “The word ‘desire’ is what comes into my head when I see the [previous] manager,” he explains. “His desire, his hunger to win, to be successful and to be at his best at all times. He demanded it from the players, too. That was probably one of the biggest changes when I came to United from where I’d been before. The mentality of being successful was what I needed, what I wanted, what I craved. In that sense, I landed on my feet when I signed for United.”
The club didn’t do too badly out of his arrival, either. With a 500th appearance in a United shirt surely not too far away, Ferdinand is assured of his place in the club’s history, alongside his former manager. Both men will hope that, one day, Moyes will be in a position to join them.