In Rio Ferdinand’s defense

Oliver Holt is supposedly the ‘Best Sports Writer in Britain’ – a title that the Mirror garishly pushes in our faces as if such awards mean something (really, OH is better than Amy Lawrence? He’d be stretched to beat Rob Smyth or Marina Hyde, let alone the likes of Kevin McCarra).

Anyway, having read his work on and off for quite some time, it’s obvious that this man knows his football. Or does he?

He writes in his latest column talking about how Rio Ferdinand has failed to fulfill his potential while playing for Manchester United. While he debates his own opinion (and gets his facts wrong), there’s the thought thrown in that Rio is a worse defender than Richards, Woodgate and King.

Ordinarily I let such claims pass by – every sports writer has a chip on their shoulder, everyone is biased so when someone says that Carragher is better than Terry or Wes Brown is a shiite defender or Lampard is better than Gerrard (or vice versa), there’s little in it but personal opinion so you let it slide. But Oliver Holt doesn’t bank this on opinion – he quotes Rio’s recent performances as proof of his theory.

Unfortunately for OH, he’s chosen the wrong time to jump on the biased media bandwagon (dare I say Liverpool fans missing Carragher?) that’s bent on showing Rio the door as far as England is concerned.

Over the last two seasons, Rio Ferdinand has left his concentration troubles behind, emerged from a less-than-satisfactory World Cup as England’s best defender (Terry, one save apart, was woefully average), is now the most natural choice for future Manchester United captaincy, goes forward far more than any of the defenders mentioned above (Richards is usually rooted to the back when he’s playing in the middle – a good thing given his lack of experience), has the pace to match the best of them (except maybe Richards, who to be fair ran track as a kid), and has as good a understanding of the game (defensively and offensively), if not better, than the contemporaries he’s compared with.

Throw Rio out of the England line up? Richards is a shoe-in at right-back, and even he wouldn’t make the grade ahead of Rio and Terry on quality, let alone experience. King and Woodgate? Not good enough to be ahead. Carragher? Misused and unfortunate, but then again he’s the reason why everyone is now sniping at Rio.

Incidentally, Rio Ferdinand hasn’t enjoyed the cult status that other star defenders enjoy at their clubs. Terry, Carragher, Toure, Woodgate, King, Richards – all big stars, all loved to death by their fans. With Rio it’s a bit different; he’s loved and respected but the contract wrangling and the rumours of meeting with Kenyon after PK had moved to Chelsea never did his reputation any good.

It’s a shame that Manchester United’s best defender in the last 3 seasons and a player who outperformed the wonderful Nemanja Vidic on the pitch when the spotlight was clearly on the Serbian last season is treated as such.

I have to agree with Holt on one thing – Rio Ferdinand has NOT fulfilled his potential – the promise that everyone saw in him when he moved to Manchester United.

However, if you take his central role for Manchester United in the last few seasons, plus his stature as a first choice England defender and at par with Terry and Carragher (who is the worst of the three with the ball on his feet, btw), you have to wonder what he could have been if that potential had been realised.

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