News surfaced last week that Sam Allardyce is welcome to the idea of giving the chance for Rio Ferdinand to make a romantic return to West Ham when his Man United contract runs out at the end of the season. Ferdinand, 33, had a highly successful stay at Upton Park in his four years there, becoming one of the most decorated products of the famed West Ham academy of all time.
Now in the midst of a squad rotation policy under Sir Alex Ferguson, an England career seemingly over since being dropped by Roy Hodgson for the Euro 2012 squad and recent critics claiming his age is starting to show, Ferdinand has seen his glory years come and go. A solid performance however in the 3-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge indicates he is still a centre back capable of playing for the best teams at the highest level. United certainly looked more settled and relaxed at the back with him involved, able to keep Torres quiet and held the ball well when running down the clock. Whether that can translate over to fitting back in West Ham is another issue. Questions will be raised whether this would be just a marquee signing and if it could hamper the development of young defenders already at West Ham such as James Tomkins et al.
Ferdinand’s possible arrival has as much chance of influencing young West Ham player's development as it does of stunting it
Ferdinand was a much loved character at West Ham and upon his return to Upton Park for visiting teams, always receives a warming welcome. He’s been able to work his way on the good side of West Ham fans who are notorious for giving former players a hard time, no more so than the likes of Jermain Defoe or Frank Lampard. It is impossible to blame Redknapp or Ferdinand for his record transfer to Leeds. £18 million made Rio a British transfer record and the world’s most expensive defender. In Leeds, he was joining a team who offered Champions League football, becoming key to the team that reached the semi final, and a major force in English football. He is still now the most costly defender after joining Man United for £30 million in 2002. His progress over the last ten years has been remarkable and he is assured of being one of the best centre backs to have played for England and in the Premier League.
Every player however has to experience the twilight of their career and Ferdinand has now reached a time when his age has become more important in the minds of the media and fans than his playing ability. This issue hit Rio like a freight train when he wasn’t included in England’s European Championships squad this summer with Hodgson stating he is not the “sort of player you have as a substitute” as well as the omission being explained for “footballing reasons”. Hodgson then made a serious error of judgement in proclaiming Ferdinand’s England career at its end on the tube to fellow passengers. Ferguson seems to still have plans for Ferdinand in his team but it is unclear how satisfied he is not being a guaranteed first team player.
The Hammers have been generally defensively sound this season with James Collins, James Tomkins and Winston Reid all performing above expectations for a newly promoted side.
These problems would be unlikely to be resolved were he to join West Ham. While the 2-1 defeat at Wigan was riddled with defensive errors, the Hammers have been generally defensively sound this season with James Collins, James Tomkins and Winston Reid all performing above expectations for a newly promoted side. These defenders all share something in common: they are no nonsense defenders being trained with a no nonsense mentality under a no nonsense manager. That player is too fast for you? Take him out early. The man you’re marking is taller than you? Hold him down. These are defenders who are a far cry from the other breed of centre back such as your Lucios, your Gerard Piques and, though not at the same level, your David Luizs. These defenders are much more cultured and are trained to be comfortable on the ball and to be proficient at carrying the ball away from their defensive line. Rio Ferdinand is this defender. Previously an attack minded player at youth level, Ferdinand has the skill to bring the ball to the half way line and pick out a diagonal pass. This is not to say ‘old school’ defenders are unskilled, they play to their strengths and are key to many teams. Allardyce has worked with cultured defenders previously, notably Spaniards Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo at Bolton, but to fit him into this new West Ham team would be a mistake.
A lot of the hope of West Ham fans has been placed in James Tomkins to raise his game this season to become a lynchpin of the West Ham defence, despite not seemingly favoured in the centre back position which have been occupied by Reid and Collins. Promising defender Leo Chambers could be the next instalment of the academy to make a big impact for the team, having already captained the England under 18’s. Ferdinand’s possible arrival has as much chance of influencing their development as it does of stunting it with their first team opportunities likely to be affected by the presence of a West Ham icon. By staying at Man United, he can help to mature both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to accomplished centre backs who can play for both club and country by showing them the United ethos of defending, an ethos that has earned them many a league title. He is undoubtedly a class defender but his return to Upton Park is not necessary for Rio or for West Ham.
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