Why Manchester United must rejig bench to get winning touch

Sunday December 16 2018

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand lifts the Premier League trophy after their English Premier League match against Swansea City at Old Trafford, Manchester on May 12, 2013. PHOTO | FILE |

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand lifts the Premier League trophy after their English Premier League match against Swansea City at Old Trafford, Manchester on May 12, 2013. PHOTO | FILE |  AFP

DAVID KWALIMWA
By DAVID KWALIMWA
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It is this mindset, the former Manchester United and England player admits, which spurred him on towards curving a distinguished, two-decade professional career on the football pitch.

During that spell, his contribution from a West Ham Academy graduate to the apex of the sport is well documented.

"Ferdy" won among other accolades, six English Premier League titles, a Uefa Champions League medal, while also the world’s most expensive defender title for almost six years after his Sh3 billion (on current estimates) move from Leeds to Manchester in 2000.

On the pitch, Ferdinand had a reputation as a no-nonsense central defender who would stop at nothing to ensure the ball didn’t get into his own net.

Former Arsenal striker Freddie Ljungberg can testify to this.

It’s now three years since he last played football competitively at Queens Park Rangers but the 40-year old has not only managed to retain his fitting and flirting physique, but also remain relevant in modern day football.

Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand during the media interview at Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi on December 14, 2018. He is in the country courtesy of Guinness where he set to meet local football clubs and fans in a series of activities over the weekend for the Guinness Fanzone. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO |

Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand during the media interview at Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi on December 14, 2018. He is in the country courtesy of Guinness where he set to meet local football clubs and fans in a series of activities over the weekend for the Guinness Fanzone. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Currently, on a two-day working trip to Kenya courtesy of Guinness, Ferdinand is a seemingly easy going chap who seems all too keen to learn even as he shares his experiences around. He is set to take part in a series of activities, including an experience to mingle with lucky Kenyan based English Premier League fans and together watch this afternoon’s high stakes clash pitting Manchester United against Liverpool.

His tall stature also perhaps best explains why he dominated most aerial challenges in his prime.

The ‘funny’ hairstyles he so often donned having since disappeared, and replaced with a clean shave and well-trimmed beard, perhaps to suit his new role as an accomplished TV pundit in the UK, ambassador for several global brands, and philanthropist.

Put simply, Ferdinand’s visit to Kenya should act as a perfect beacon and lesson to the hundreds of retired Kenyan footballers who struggle to make ends meet, instead preferring to live off handouts from football administrators and politicians.

And before I forget, Ferdinand is as romantic as they come.

Recently, he flew his fiancée Kate - a television presenter - for a 6,000-kilometre trip from London to Dubai, took her up some 40-something floors and announced his engagement atop Nation Towers rooftop in a gesture that best highlights his decision to move on following the death of his first wife three years ago.

"That was such a fine gesture. I thank you for setting standards for Kenyan men who believe taking us to restaurants and going down on one knee is enough for a proposal," media personality Carol Radull explained at his press briefing, obviously with a light touch.

In his first real chance to speak his mind, Ferdinand admits to Nation Sport that there is something currently wrong at Manchester United, considering the recent results on the pitch and table standings.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho reacts during their English Premier League match against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth on November 3, 2018. PHOTO | BEN STANSALL |

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho reacts during their English Premier League match against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth on November 3, 2018. PHOTO | BEN STANSALL |AFP

Not done, he even dares to suggest the decision makers at the club should consider shuffling the technical bench, which implies getting rid of current Portuguese coach Jose Felix Mourinho.

"The current situation at Manchester United is not good," he says.

"At the moment confidence is low and our league position is not great. Something needs to happen. I hope it happens at Liverpool (during this afternoon’s league match).

"This, is my opinion is the biggest game in England and the lads should go all out to prove this."

Under Mourinho, United are currently ranked a lowly seventh (considering their own standards) on the 20-team league standings, with seven wins out of a possible 16.

And perhaps in a bid to endear himself to the millions of his African followers, Ferdy is keen to appreciate the talents of several African strikers.

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba celebrates scoring their first goal during their English Premier League match against Newcastle United at St James’ Park in Newcastle on December 6, 2014. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba celebrates scoring their first goal during their English Premier League match against Newcastle United at St James’ Park in Newcastle on December 6, 2014. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

He refers to former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor (who made his name at Arsenal and later Real Madrid), plus ‘Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o’ as among the top forwards he dreaded to meet.

"Without Drogba, one can argue that Chelsea’s recent success story will be different.

"He was a beast and someone who would have a poor game, and then pop up with that odd goal to settle the match.

"Adebayor once had a very good game at Old Trafford and I remember asking myself ‘Who is he’?, then he went on to having an amazing career."

In another straight shooting comment, Ferdinand explains – with a straight face and serious look – that there is no place for racism not only in football but also in the modern day world. "A lot of people are suffering but are scared to talk about racism," he says while wearing a stern look. This comment is in reference to Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City and England striker who suffered abuse at last week’s English Premier League match pitting his club versus Chelsea. The main suspect in this aggression incident has since been suspended from watching any English Premier League match from the stadium as authorities continue to investigate.

Nevertheless, the incident has provoked a widespread reaction from around the globe, especially after the Jamaican born player suggested via his social media pages that the English mainstream media indirectly ‘supports’ the vice through unfair coverage of black and white players. "They (those affected) do not speak out because they perhaps fear missing out on employment opportunities as they will be perceived to be outspoken.

"The relevant authorities need to speak up and clean this act," Ferdinand adds. Sadly, Ferdinand, who was born and brought up in a modest background, has been a victim of this abuse.

Queens Park Rangers' English defender Anton Ferdinand (left) avoids shaking hands with Chelsea's English defender John Terry (right) before the English Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at Loftus Road in London, England  on September 15, 2012.  Controversial former England captain John Terry faced a Football Association disciplinary hearing over racism charges on Monday, despite being cleared in a criminal case. PHOTO | FILE

Queens Park Rangers' English defender Anton Ferdinand (left) avoids shaking hands with Chelsea's English defender John Terry (right) before the English Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at Loftus Road in London, England on September 15, 2012. Controversial former England captain John Terry faced a Football Association disciplinary hearing over racism charges on Monday, despite being cleared in a criminal case. PHOTO | FILEAFP

The incident forced him to terminate his professional relationship with England teammates John Terry and Ashley Cole seven years ago. He confesses now that the status quo remains.

"I do not speak to John Terry anymore. I have nothing to tell him." It all began when Terry was caught on camera directing what appeared to be an unprintable racist abuse towards his younger brother Anton during a league match involving Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers.

In his autobiography named two sides, Ferdinand states: "As England captain and my centre back partner, he (Terry) could have saved everyone a lot of pain by admitting immediately he used the word in the heat of the moment but was no racist.

"I think probably that’s what happened and what the truth is. Anton and I would’ve accepted that instead he never gave us a chance."

He also took issue with Cole – a black player - for attempting to defend Terry in court when the matter escalated to the authorities.

Terry was eventually cleared of the charge of racially abusing Anton but found guilty by the Football Association of ‘using abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour’ towards the then QPR defender.

On a lighter note, Ferdinand urges football authorities and other stakeholders to make the most of Kenya’s recent qualification to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after a 15-year wait.

Rio has also ruled out the possibility of venturing into coaching instead preferring to spend more time with his children.

He’s also admitted to giving up in trying to wade into professional boxing after failing to acquire a licence.

He is also honest enough to predict – to the disappointment of many Manchester United fans - that his favourite team will not win the English Premier League title or UEFA Champions League this season.

He however tips Manchester City or Liverpool to go all the way.

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