Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rio Ferdinand: This is the End

Rio Ferdinand is old. At least, for a footballer, he’s getting up there – 35 years old, and turning 36 by the time the next Premier League season starts. He still has class and poise on the field, but the reason he’s almost certain to leave Manchester United at the end of this season is that his body just can’t do it any more.

Tuesday’s match against Champions League Champions (and Champions-elect) Bayern Munich exemplified the best and worst of Ferdinand in 2013-14.

With his hand somewhat forced by injuries to Jonny Evans, Rafael and Chris Smalling, manager David Moyes opted to revisit the past-prime Ferdinand/Vidic combination, with startling success: Ferdinand played as well as he has in months, while Vidic fired in the home team’s goal.

Ferdinand, confident and assured on the ball as is his style, was able to move the ball away from dangerous positions most of the time. However, he was liable – as, more damningly, was Marouane Fellaini – for United conceding the equaliser only minutes after taking the lead.

On Fox Sports Eric Wynalda spake about Ferdinand “half-challenging” Bayern assist-giver Schweinsteiger, he was only half right: Ferdinand simply couldn’t get a full challenge in because age has robbed him of his lateral mobility. This in turn gives the appearance of the former England centre-half constantly being wrong-footed – as he was multiple times by Edin Dzeko last week during the defeat to Manchester City.

While lateral mobility for a tall player is always more difficult than for shorter players – compare Peter Crouch’s ultimately linear style with that of Lionel Messi. The first aspect of muscle performance – strength, power and endurance – to decline is power, or the quick burst required to change directionsor react to an opponent’s course-correction.

There simply is no place in a rebuilding back four for a player who lacks the mobility to cover even and Edin Dzeko (or Mario Mandzukic), let alone a player as scamper-y as Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi or Edin Hazard. Ferdinand will hobble into the sunset (ie. MLS) and Manchester United fans should remember him not for his declining years but his dominant years where he was as smooth as could come.

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