Aging, injury plagued, dipping form; Rio Ferdinand can't go on forever and Manchester United will, eventually, need to replace him
Firstly, I do not want this article to come across as any significant criticism towards Ferdinand. The player has been absolutely magnificent for us since he signed – a proper ball playing defender who is comfortable on the ball and in the tackle. Whether it was Mikael Silvestre or Nemanja Vidic, Ferdinand has always formed a formidable partnership in the middle of defence. However, age is not on his side, and he has had a number of injuries and he arguable is not the player he once was. Ferguson even said after the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City last season that would need to compensate for his loss of pace, and based on his performances after that game, he must have been listening.
Jonny Evans is someone who for a long time has been much maligned by many Manchester United fans. He often appeared to lose track of his man and the ball, and looked clumsy. However, last season was without a doubt a breakthrough season for the Northern Irishman. He was magnificent. Alongside Ferdinand he was formidable, and a key factor in protecting David De Gea during his weak spell. He would certainly be my most improved player – the season before he was quite frankly awful, but last season he looked an authority, and in reality has become a senior player in the squad.
Without doubt one of my favourite players in the current United squad. When news broke out that we had signed him I was a little sceptical, after all he only played a handful of games in the Premier League for Fulham up to that point, and arguably, his last few games for the Cottagers, after it was confirmed we had signed him, were pretty poor. However, since then he has been noted as a young Ferdinand for a number of reasons – both are from London, both are ball playing centre defenders, both are tall, and both like to get forward when time allows them to. Personally, I think Smalling will become a better player than Ferdinand, and will eventually partner Evans in the centre of defence for a very long time to come. He can play right back, which is a bonus, particularly as mentioned he likes to get forward. He is quick, a good tackler and doesn’t have many faults, apart from naivety something which hopefully will grow out of him.
Is it a midfielder? Is it a defender? I am not sure, but what I do know; it is Phil Jones. The youngster did very well last season. He played right back, centre back, defensive midfielder, centre midfield – everywhere. It is very easy to make comparisons with John O’Shea, whose versatility was perhaps his downfall, and it is a gut instinct of mine that Ferguson needs to decide whether Jones is a midfielder or a defender otherwise he might well fall into the O’Shea category. He is no doubt a huge talent, hard as nails, and like Smalling and Ferdinand, likes to play with the ball at his feet, good in the tackle and loves to get forward. Also, like Smalling, and perhaps unlike Ferdinand he is an instantly likeable chap.
However, since then he has been noted as a young Ferdinand for a number of reasons – both are from London, both are ball playing centre defenders, both are tall, and both like to get forward when time allows them to.
If United had an unlimited amount of money, I would want them to sign two players – Luka Modric and Mats Hummels. The Borussia Dortmund defender, like Ferdinand, has good technique, is comfortable with the ball at his feet and likes to come forward. Similar to the Manchester United star, mentally he is often one step ahead of attackers and tends to form a good bond with whoever he is partnered with in the centre of defence. He was a key, no, vital part of the title winning Dortmund side and will be a feature of the German national team for a long time. Despite my hopes that the weak rumours saying Hummels might join United, he has signed a new contract and stayed loyal with Dortmund.
Yes, yes, I know; Jan Vertonghen has already signed for another club. But he is also pretty similar to Ferdinand and Tottenham Hotspur signed him for around £10million, so potentially a very good Glazer signing, and if we were not so desperate for a midfielder and did not have Evans, Jones and Smalling, I would like to think Manchester United would have made a bid for the 25 year old Belgian. He is a leader, having captained Ajax to domestic glory, he loves to get forward, he loves to have the ball at his feet and is a commanding presence. His partnership with Vincent Kompany for Belgium would probably have not been too dissimilar to any potential partnership he may have had with Vidic. It is quite ironic, this article is talking about someone who long term might be able to replace Rio Ferdinand, yet Vertonghen is arguable going to replace Ledley King and depending on what Spurs fan you talk to, Michael Dawson as well. Spurs have got themselves a bargain here. He might take a bit of time to adapt to the English league. Dutchman Jaap Stam took time to setlle before he became one of United’s best ever centre backs. He was pretty poor for the first couple of months but people have forgotten about this and Vertonghen may find it similar, although he did win Dutch Footballer of the Year in 2012. Spurs fans can be very, very happy with the signing of Vertonghen, those who are not too sure about him are in for a treat, and any Spurs fan who has already rubbished him do so at their peril.
So, Ferdinand is not finished just yet, but sadly he will be soon and who would I like to see take his mantle? Quite simply; Chris Smalling. He is so similar to Ferdinand in so many ways – and of course we won’t need to spend any extra money we don’t have. Evans, is to me, more of a replacement for Vidic than anything else. In Smalling though, we have someone who in a few years will be the finished article. He is only 22, and defenders do not tend to reach their peak until their late 20’s, so he has it all before him.
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