5. RIO FERDINAND
|Birthdate:||07 Nov 1978|
|Joined United:||22 Jul 2002|
|United Debut:||27 Aug 2002 v Zalaegerszeg (H)|
Armed with elegance, pace and an astute ability to read the game, Rio Ferdinand is one of the finest defenders in world football.
The Peckham-born star burst onto the Premiership scene with West Ham United under the guidance of Harry Redknapp before being snapped up by Leeds United for £18million in November 2000. The 2002 World Cup provided Rio the stage to make the transformation from budding talent to accomplished defender, and his performances in Japan convinced Sir Alex to part with £30million. Although initially hampered by injury, Rio found his feet towards the end of his first season, as United overtook Arsenal to win a 15th league title. But in September 2003, disaster struck. The defender missed a routine drugs test and, despite appealing and the test results coming back negative, was banned from football for eight months in January 2004. Since returning from suspension, Rio has consistently justified his tag as a world-class defender. He’s also chipped in with valuable goals, perhaps most dramatically with an injury-time winner against Liverpool in January 2006. In May 2008, Ferdinand signed a new five-year contract, keeping him at Old Trafford until 2013. Six days later he went on to captain United to Champions League glory in Moscow. It was a fitting way to end a near flawless season for the centre-back. His good form continued into the 2008/09 campaign, with Ferdinand playing a crucial role in United’s record-breaking clean-sheet run. Certainly, without his consistent performances at the back, the Reds may not have gone on to win an 18th league title or reach a second successive European final. Sir Alex’s men lost to Barcelona in Rome, although things may well have been different had Ferdinand been fully fit (a calf injury hampered Rio’s preparations). Unfortunately, injuries also played a big role in Rio’s 2009/10. The defender made just 12 starts in the league as back, hamstring and groin problems severely limited his involvement. He fared slightly better in 2010/11, starting half of United’s 38 league fixtures as the Reds marched towards a record-breaking 19th title and proving particularly key in the run-in as the games came thick and fast. And there was further improvement in 2011/12, when Ferdinand was a near ever-present in United’s back four. Although the campaign yielded no major trophies, the centre-back made 38 appearances and his invaluable experience helped United take the title fight down to the wire.