Spring in Rio’s step
Rio Ferdinand discusses his fitness, his future and the balance between attack and defence in an exclusive interview, first published in Inside United …
You had your longest summer of your career prior to this season – have you felt the benefit?
Yeah I think so but to be honest I’ll have a better idea of that in December/January time when the games start coming thick and fast. That’s when it really hits you and you know the hard work really has to start and you begin to think about the home stretch. I’ll probably get a better gauge of where I’m at [fitness-wise] and the benefit of having the summer off then.
Sir Alex has said he can see you continuing for another season – do you feel as if you can?
It’s always good to hear the manager say things like that, but you just take every week and every month as it comes. The best thing to do will be to look at it at Christmas and then again in the summer to see how I’m feeling and go from there. But hearing the manager say things like that definitely puts the spring back in your step.
How do you assess the start to the season from a personal and team perspective?
From a personal perspective things have gone alright. It’s been good to get back playing. I missed a couple of games at the beginning of the season which was unfortunate after getting a good pre-season under my belt, but I feel better now and I’m back into my stride. Team-wise I think you always need a few games at the start of the campaign to get into your perfect rhythm and up until the game against Newcastle we’d been a bit open and playing in that way of ‘we attack, you attack.’ But I think the performance against Newcastle signalled a bit of a change in mentality from us and hopefully that’s a taste of things to come for the rest of the season. If we can maintain that kind of form I believe we’ve got a really good chance of being successful this season.
What changed in that game?
I don’t know to be honest. Sometimes things just click into place and we just felt very secure in that game and it felt very much like the Manchester United of old, from a couple of years ago. I think we’d got in a position this season, a bit like we did at the start of last season, where we were just playing open, expansive football and expecting to score three or four goals and not really concentrating as we should on our defending. This league is unforgiving in that sense – if you’re not on your game in all areas you’ll get punished.
Newcastle felt like a really big match – on the back of the Tottenham game, defeat would have made it three losses in seven and left you seven points off top spot. Did it feel like a massive game to you?
Yes it did. And actually before kick-off the manager showed us the league table to emphasise that point and it didn’t make pretty reading. I don’t really look at the league table until Christmas normally, but when we all saw it that day it hit home and we thought ‘wow, we need to shake ourselves up.’ Thankfully it turned out to be a good day for us.
It’s obviously been disappointing to concede first in a lot of games this season but do you take heart from the response the team have shown to come back in games?
Yes definitely. It shows the character in the squad when we’ve gone behind and still found a way back into a game. But the more times you go behind, at some point you’re going to get beaten and that’s happened a couple of times already this season and we need to make sure we steer clear of that from now on.
The defence has chipped in well with goals so far, with Evans, Evra, Buttner and Rafael all on the scoresheet. That must be positive for the team?
Yeah it’s been good to see. Opportunities come along and you’ve just got to take them and that’s what they’ve done. I’d like to get in on the act, of course, too. I thought my time had come at Southampton [Rio hit the post just before van Persie’s second goal] but it wasn’t to be.
Presumably you enjoyed the outcome at Southampton though, as a lover of last-minute victories?
Yeah that was unbelievable and it was brilliant for Robin to get a hat-trick on the day. But again you just don’t want to put yourself in those situations where you have to come back and pull victories from the jaws of defeat. I’m sure the manager’s heart is beating much quicker than normal after games like that!
Does playing between full-backs who have such a licence to bomb on give you a lot to think about in terms of covering across?
Yeah you’ve got to keep them on the reins! [Smiles]. But we’ve got such good attacking options with our forwards and midfielders that sometimes we don’t need to join in and we just need to focus on keeping the door locked at the back and making sure the other team doesn’t get any opportunities. We’ve been successful when we’ve been good at doing that.
United have played some different formations this term – does that affect your role as a centre-back at all?
Not really. For us as a back four the way we start games and our mentality is the most important thing. Whatever gets put in front of you after that is something we just deal with – the most important thing for us as defenders is to have the right mentality.