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Much Ado About Ferdinand, And Some Loads of Ballacks

One of our readers, JB, pointed me out to this article by Oliver Holt. The ‘bloke’ at Soccerlens also wrote about it, but since I found it interesting myself, I thought I would also contribute to the clutter.

Oliver Holt, of course, is a fine lad who is a columnist at the Mirror. Although the use of the words ‘columnist’ and ‘Mirror’ in the same sentence might be regarded by many as an odd use of the English language. That doesn’t stop said paper rag from proclaiming Holt as the best Sports Writer in Britain. But prejudices aside, the article had enough in it to warrant a retort of some kind. In that respect, well done Mr. Holt.

Now this wouldn’t be full blooded nit-picking on my part. I will credit where it’s due. The comparisons, examples he brings out are quite tenuous really and there are just a couple of facts in his article that ring true. One of them was Rio’s frequent lapses in concentration, and the other being Rio not having realized his true potential – out of which I wouldn’t really accept the latter fact entirely.

So let’s move on to his article and pull out our surgical tools:

Hoddle saw Ferdinand’s ability on the ball as the key to the classic sweeper system he hoped to implement.[…]Ferdinand moved to Manchester United and somewhere between then and evading a drugs test, he had all the adventure beaten out of him. Ferguson might give his forwards and his midfielders free rein to express their glorious talents but his defenders defend.He’s still a fine player in many ways. He won a league winners’ medal with United last season after all.
But he’s lost what made him special. He’s lost what made him different. The system chewed him up and spat him out as an Average Joe. He’s a stopper now but his heart’s not in it. Just because he doesn’t get forward in open play any more hasn’t stopped him losing his concentration. He was poor against Germany in England’s last game and even in United’s colours, he is looking increasingly slipshod.

Agreed, Ferdinand is very comfortable on the ball and so on and so forth. But this article takes a (veiled?) shot at United and Ferguson for not letting Rio come into his own. Apparently his game has gone backwards ever since he put on the United colours. There are reasons why he didn’t perform to Holt’s high expectations in United colours. Defences work in partnerships, and until the arrival of Nemanja Vidic – a player who is an uncompromising centre half, who prefers to stay back – we were really struggling to have a reliable partner to Rio who would give him the sort of assurance, he needs, to bring the ball out of defence and move forward. In the 05/06 season the lack of really good partners – Wes Brown was settling in after a bad injury layoff – was a problem for Rio and he had many lapses such as the comical one when Blackburn defeated us 4-3, among others.

In the 03/04 season he, and United, was doing quite well before the missed drugs test, following which we lost our way in the league too. In England colours, which is Holt’s main concern anyway, he was by far the better defender than John Terry in the World Cup. It must be noted that Holt is using recent cases to further his argument. The Germany game, some moment in the Spurs game. That, according to him, seems like enough reason to call him a waste of a talent. It seems enough to mask the fact that he has been mostly without much fault helping United win the title with among the best defensive records in the league.

It is rather unfair on Rio, be it his alleged demand for a major pay rise (which didn’t go down too well with fans) or his performance last season, his contributions seems to go unnoticed. I can remember plenty of crucial tackles he made which was possible because of his excellent awareness and pace that a player like Carragher would have made it seem spectacular because it was a last second lunge. (Honestly Carragher’s awareness and positioning is not a spot on Ferdinand. It’s Carra’s timing in his tackle that helps him out on numerous occasions) For a natural like Ferdinand, such things come so easily that one does not notice when he does good. But when he does have bad days, he becomes ridiculed.

This season (as well as last) he has moved far up field. Holt’s argument that SAF expects Rio to ‘hoof the ball up’ now sounds ridiculously silly. In most games that United have played this season, it’s become familiar seeing Ferdinand run so far up the pitch. On a couple of occasions I saw him go up the right flank – Brown, are you listening? – and get in a cross.

Yes, he does have his faults. He has his moments where he loses concentration. We did see that in the Community Shield game where Malouda made him look silly. Or in the Portsmouth game last season. But mostly he has an assured air about him that for England at present makes him easily the better defender than most other candidates. While Terry’s been great for Chelsea, he hasn’t really convinced on the international stage. Honestly none of the England players (bar Hargreaves) have managed to translate their club form on to the international stage on a consistent basis. The problem lies in the England team itself and the muppet that manages it more than any particular player. A failed 3-5-2 means Ferdinand is crap? Jesus, it’s not football manager, where a formation change just enables you to add that many more attackers or defenders to your side. The players need time to gel.

Holt questions his commitment, which was there for all to see in the interview he gave. Of course, the use of the word catastrophe (if England don’t qualify) was taking it too far.

Anyway, that should be it. Should lay off Holt for now. Untill he writes another column saying Ferguson could have been the Duke of Edinburgh before signing off with the title ‘Best Political Analyst’.

Meanwhile there’s been loads of noise made over what could have been had Ballack signed for us. Well, I would have liked it if he signed, but I really wonder if he would have given us our defensive protection that Hargreaves is now giving us. In Bayern, Ballack was given the licence to attack. He had people shielding the defence for him. That wouldn’t be the case for Chelsea or United. He would come in the way of Scholes (and in Chelsea’s case, Lamps). Anyway, I would be sad if he leaves Chelsea. I’d love him to keep playing alongside Lampard. Keeps the Rent Boys playing boring as shit. Actually, anything that keeps Essien out of the equation. That guy scares the hell out of me (and a player I would have loved to have been at United). Just hope Mourinho never really allows Essien the freedom he affords Fat Frank.

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