Many fans believe that football testimonials are going to be a rare breed for modern-day football in the near future, so we should celebrate them whilst they’re here. This August, Manchester United will face La Liga side Sevilla in a testimonial for Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford.
It would be hard to look back on it now but there was a time when a section of United fans thought that perhaps Rio was more trouble than good, especially after the defender received an 8-month ban for missing a drugs test in 2004.
Those fans no doubt would have been irritated by Rio emerging as one of the club’s figureheads during a lean period from 2004-06 when Chelsea were running the roost domestically and when the club were struggling to get past the first knock-out round of the Champions League.
Of course much of that criticism was unfair. United were in a period of transition and when results aren’t going your way, fans will lash out at players who they believe are under-performing. Rio being one of those stars was an easy target.
Rio’s winning-goal at home to Liverpool in January 2006 was for some fans a real turning point. It was a winning-goal against Liverpool, a late one at that and one that when celebrated showed how much the club meant to the defender. It was the moment the fans took to him and arguably his biggest moment in a United shirt
After that Rio never looked back. He impressed at the World Cup in Germany and went onto form a great partnership with Nemanja Vidic that arguably was one of the key reasons for United winning 3 successive championships on the trot. Yes Wayne Rooney, Cristinao Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were banging in goals but the foundations of that great side were built at the back.
Last season saw Rio play more games than any other centre-half at the club. It was a testament to his character that he played so well when so many fans and pundits were predicting that he wouldn’t be able to perform to those standards due to the number of injury problems he has endured over the last 3-4 years.
Even with the likes of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones around Rio will remain a vital cog in next season’s squad. He may not play the number of games that he did last season but his involvement will only benefit not just those young defenders but all the young players in the squad.
England fans may not look back fondly on Rio’s time with the national-team but to United fans he has been a great servant of their club. The £29.1m fee Sir Alex Ferguson paid Leeds United for his services then was extraordinary money to pay for any player but in terms of his longevity and impact at the club, that fee now looks very much like a bargain.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87