Rio Ferdinand has signed a contract extension that will keep him at Old Trafford for a further year. The defender looks to build on his 432 appearances and six Premier League titles with the club. This season has been hailed as his best yet with the 34 year old making 26 league appearances and a further 6 in other competitions.
The deal represents a major move for incoming boss David Moyes. Following the retirement of Paul Scholes and the possible exit of Wayne Rooney, Moyes will see Rio Ferdinand as an invaluable part of the dressing room structure at Old Trafford. Going into his 12th campaign as a Manchester United player, his status as a senior pro will be extremely vital to continuing success at the club.
Giggs, Carrick, Evra, Rooney and club captain Nemanja Vidic represent the nucleus and are expected to set examples to the abundant young talent in the squad. The system put in place by Sir Alex Ferguson is said to 'self-police' with the seniors pulling the juniors into line when things get out of hand. It is a system that has been in place for years under Ferguson, dating back to Alan Hansen's famous "never win anything with kids" comment. In a way the outgoing Match of the Day pundit was right, with Schmeichel, Irwin, Bruce, Pallister and Cantona sitting at the head of the table in those days. With this being the dressing room culture at Manchester United, Ferdinand still has much to contribute off the field.
All the evidence also suggests that Rio has much to contribute on the field too. His appearance record this season (32) and last (38) has done much to quell the speculation that his back cannot withstand the vigours of top flight football. In the 2009-10 season he managed a mere 13 league appearances. However, since then his injury has been well managed by Rob Swire and the other medical staff at Carrington and his physical well-being will be boosted by his retirement from England duty this season.
With all that said, it seems like an obvious decision for incoming chief executive Ed Woodward to deal with. United's policy of only giving one year extensions to players over 30 has been in place for a while and with Scholes and Giggs readily accepting these terms, Rio would not have thought he would receive any different. If the rumours regarding him taking a pay cut are true, United fans will be delighted that he has taken a path alien to the majority of modern day footballers.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master of squad rotation and David Moyes will have to prove the same. This is where the potential downside of keeping Ferdinand on may appear. The club is blessed with five quality central defenders: Vidic, Evans, Smalling, Jones and Ferdinand. Ferguson has been able to balance the five, predominantly due to injury. More often than not, at least two of these players have been injured at the same time in the last few seasons, even requiring Michael Carrick to fill in on the first day of the campaign just gone. If fit, it will be difficult for Moyes to balance these players for two additional reasons: the first being the emergence of Evans as a viable choice to begin matches when others are fully fit; the second being how keen Moyes is to plan for the future in developing a Jones-Smalling partnership.
The Jones-Smalling axis has been long said to be the future for club and country. People forget that Jonny Evans is only 25 and considering his form in the last year, he has shown enough potential to throw fire on the England duo. Jones' development may also be an issue, as his long term future is expected to be at centre back but his experiences have not been conducive to him learning the role. It is outlandish to think that once Vidic and Ferdinand move on he will be able to step straight in and not put a foot wrong, even with extensive first team experience in different roles.
The much lauded culture of youth at the club will also have something to say about Michael Keane and Tom Thorpe in that position, although it is expected that they will have to garner further experience on loan before being considered for the first team.
It must be said that although Ferdinand's decision is an undoubted positive for the club, it will also present further questions for the new manager. Rotation and developing youth is a part of management that he has yet to deal with on this scale and they are facets at the centre of the club's ethos. Further pressure for Moyes stepping into Fergie's shoes