What stats don`t tell about Rio`s real contribution to United

Zee Media Bureau/Dattaraj Thaly

London: Rio Ferdinand`s association with Manchester United has come to an end after the club decided against offering the defender a new contract. During his 12 years stay at Old Trafford, Ferdinand along with Nemanja Vidic formed arguably the greatest center-back partnerships in club`s history. Now that both are on their way out of United and the club making an unsuccessful bid to sign Luke Shaw, the rebuilding process has commenced at Old Trafford.

Ferdinand joined United from Leeds in 2002 at a world record fee of GBP 30m for a defender. It was a time when Sir Alex Ferguson had made a u-turn regarding his retirement and Arsenal had just regained hold of the Premier League trophy.

Since then, he has made 455 appearances for United winning six Premier League titles, one Champions League, a FIFA Club World Cup and two League Cups. Only Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Roy Keane have participated in more Premier League matches for United than Ferdinand`s 312. At 455 appearances, he is 17th on the all-time list for United and 7th among defenders.

In short, history will not only judge him kindly but also grant him a status of Manchester United legend.

However, what the stats don`t reveal is the immense contribution of Ferdinand in helping Sir Alex build and rebuild squads post 2002. United did not win the league from 2004-06. It was Ferdinand who provided the maturity and assurance at the back so the club could develop a brand of football spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

In 2006, Sir Alex paired Rio up with the ideal centre-back in the form of Vidic. Ferdinand`s quick anticipation and reading of the game coupled with Vidic`s physical and aerial domination helped United win three league titles on the trot.

The duo were rock-solid at the back. As good as Steve Bruce and Garry Pallister, if not better. The stability at the back allowed Sir Alex to build a dynamic brand of football that had Rooney, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez all part of the squad at the same time. The free-flowing football philosophy helped United conquer Europe in 2008. Rio Ferdinand was part of the solid foundation that helped Ronaldo dazzle and win the Ballon d`Or. The contribution of United`s defense against Barcelona in the sem-final will go down in United`s folklore.

Apart from missing a drug-test in 2003, Rio has been a model professional during his United career. He stood up for his teammate, Patric Evra as he did for his brother, Anton Ferdinand, when they faced racial discrimination during Premier League matches. Unlike modern day footballers, Ferdinand was always vocal about issues plaguing the game of football. That is such a rarity with "image" being the buzzword in football today.

United have been one of the most successful teams in Europe in the past decade. The consistency of performance was largely due to the stable back four of which Rio Ferdinand was an invaluable member.

With Agency inputs