Earlier this month, Rio Ferdinand was given a fantastic birthday present when new Argentina coach Diego Maradona turned up at Manchester United's Trafford Training Centre in Carrington to catch up with Carlos Tevez. Maradona handed the England defender a signed shirt to cap his 30th celebrations, and it has surely taken pride of place in his home, alongside his ever growing collection of medals and international caps.

In 2008 alone, Ferdinand has been an integral member of the United side that won two of the toughest and most prestigious prizes club football has to offer: the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. Now the Londoner is hoping to add the FIFA Club World Cup to that list before the year is out.

Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Ferdinand focuses on the night in Moscow which booked United's place in Japan, his progression as a professional and why Roger Federer and Nelson Mandela are his heroes.

FIFA.com: Rio, can you recall the moment when Sir Alex Ferguson asked you to be Manchester United captain for the UEFA Champions League final?
Rio Ferdinand:
He didn't do it in a specific way, he just named the team and obviously because Gary [Neville] and [Ryan] Giggs weren't playing, I was the captain. It was as simple as that really. But it's funny, I didn't think about the significance of potentially picking up the trophy until we won the game and someone came to me saying: ‘You have to get the team over to the stairs'. It was then the significance hit me, and it was quite an emotional moment. There's certainly been no prouder moment in my career.

Does captaincy change the way you play?
Not really. There's more responsibility obviously, but if you're given the captain's armband and you change the way you play dramatically, it will take away from the performances which won you the captaincy. If you are handed the captain's armband, it's because the manager thinks that you're playing as a leader, so you're better off continuing with the way you usually play.

The job must be easier for United and England because you're in a team surrounded with leaders.
That's true, because those players have a desire and a hunger to win. United have a very vocal squad and that's coming with England now too. I think it's important for a successful side.

Obviously you lifted the trophy with Giggs, who scored the winning penalty, but who was next in line?
It was me! All the time I was focused on where I was going to put the ball and mentally running through the scenario in my head. But in the end, I didn't have to. I was very nervous I can tell you, but also very grateful to Edwin [van der Sar] for saving the last one.

Do you get nervous before big games such as these?
The last time I got nervous before a big match, or when I allowed the occasion to get the better of me, was probably the Brazil-England game in Japan at the 2002 World Cup. If I'm able to have a good build-up to the game and keep to a particular routine, I don't tend to get nervous.

You mentioned Japan there- you'll be heading back there next month. What are your memories of going there as a footballer?
I love going to Japan. I think it's a fantastic country. It's very diverse with great people who are very enthusiastic about football. The stadiums are fantastic with excellent facilities. I did reasonably well there with England in 2002 and it was because of my performances there that I managed to seal my move to Manchester United. I'm sure when I look back on my career, I'll always remember Japan fondly.

What was your favourite memory from the 2002 FIFA World Cup?
Probably the goal I scored against Denmark in the Round of 16. We played extremely well in the match and to score my first England goal at a World Cup was a fantastic moment.

Six years later, you're heading back for the FIFA Club World Cup - has 2008 been your best as a professional footballer?
In terms of success, definitely. It doesn't get much better than winning the league and Champions League double. Now we're looking at being the champions of the world. It would be great to start the season with another trophy under our belts. We're desperate to win it and that's what I hope we're going to do.

How much do you know about the other teams in the tournament?
Not much, but the manager's working already on that. By the time we head out there, we'll be well prepared.

How do you think you've improved since you've been at Manchester United?
I think there has been a steady improvement to be honest. In the first season we won the league, but if I am being honest, I didn't feel as though I was a key member of the team. I played every game, but I feel as though I just got through them, with little in the way of responsibility. I think every year since then, I've been progressing in that sense.

You began your career as a midfielder. How difficult was it to push back into defence?
It wasn't too bad. When I was 14 or 15, my manager asked me if I wouldn't mind playing centre-half for the day. I did and I haven't looked back since. When I was a bit younger I used to be put back in midfield or even up front to try and get a goal, but not now!

You are actually scoring a bit more regularly now. What do you put that down to?
In the past, when I used to go up for set pieces, I used to think 'Oh well, let's just see what happens', but now I'm a bit more focused. I know where I'm going to run and where I can be a bit more dangerous.

So, emergency striker, midfielder and defender, but you also played in goal in January during an FA Cup tie with Manchester United after Tomasz Kuszczak had been sent off - what was that like?
I wouldn't want to play there ever again. It's the loneliest position on the pitch. I don't know how goalkeepers do it. You're all alone, you don't get to see or touch the ball for long periods and then you're called upon to make great saves which can change games. It's horrible.

Who is your hero either inside or outside of sport?
Inside of sport, I'd have to say Roger Federer for the way he has dominated tennis, with grace, focus and style. It's something to admire, because as a sportsman, I know how hard that is to do week in, week out. Outside of sport, it would be Nelson Mandela for all he's achieved. He's devoted his life to his nation.

The next FIFA World Cup is in his country. How much are you looking forward to the prospect of playing there?
It would be great if Nelson Mandela was the person who handed us the World Cup. There's no better man in the world to do that and that's something to work towards, but there is a very long way to go yet.