Rio Ferdinand must overcome young pretenders and injury to earn new Man Utd deal

Rio Ferdinand is at the right club if his aim is to continue playing at the highest level for as long as he possibly can. Youth is promoted at Manchester United but experience is appreciated, with Edwin van der Sar recently departing aged 40, Paul Scholes bowing out at 36 and Ryan Giggs still going strong as his 38th birthday fast approaches. Ferdinand, 33 next month, has less than two years remaining on his current contract and he is angling for one final bumper deal, which at present does not appear to be forthcoming.

As is customary in these circumstances, interest in Ferdinand has been cranked up in an attempt to push through a deal, but the calibre of suitor may prove to be counter productive. Harry Redknapp’s interest is a given, whereas Chicago Fire are desperate for a ‘marquee’ player and are believed to have identified Ferdinand, with his current £120,000 a week salary not being a huge problem. Two of Qatar’s richest clubs, Lekhwiya and Al Sadd, are also believed to be vying for his services. European giants are conspicuous by their absence as Ferdinand’s available options resemble lucrative retirement ventures.

Ferdinand has entered his 10th year at United and his recent injury record is clearly working against him. Recently sidelined with a hamstring injury, he has endured a frustrating couple of seasons where back and knee injuries restricted him to 32 league starts and robbed him of the chance to captain his country at the 2010 World Cup. While not quite in Owen Hargreaves’ league of 5 appearances in 3 years, he finds himself in a similar position in having to prove his fitness in the coming months if he is to stand any chance of extending his stay. “Rio will have to stay fit, that is the key for him,” Sir Alex Ferguson claimed recently. “As he gets older, he won’t play all the games because we have Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones who are the best young centre backs in the country. Any one of them can come in.”

The rapid emergence of Jones and Smalling further compounds Ferdinand’s predicament, with Evans also highly regarded at Old Trafford. Jones has rampaged his way through the opening weeks of the season while Smalling is starting to resemble the Rio Ferdinand of West Ham, who rose to prominence at a similar age. A fit Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic would still be Ferguson’s favoured centre-back pairing, but competition for places is now fierce and Ferdinand cannot afford to allow others the opportunity to impress with a sustained run in the side. The same situation exists at international level, where the same players threaten his place ahead of next summer’s European Championships. Ferdinand and John Terry would appear to be first choice but there is little in the way of job security.

Rio Ferdinand’s career at the highest level hangs in the balance and the coming months may prove critical. Both club and country will be keen to see him hit his stride in the closing stages of the season while external forces remain keen to phase out the old and bring through the new. Manchester United decided to cut their losses on Hargreaves and Ferdinand will have to remain fit and at the peak of his powers to avoid the same fate.

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