A cultured centre-half, Rio Ferdinand came out of the same West Ham United academy that produced England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore and final goalscorers Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
He caught the eye as a young player for his elegance and composure on the ball as much as his defensive ability, and often featured in midfield for West Ham’s youth team, before breaking into the senior side as the first of a talented crop that included future England team-mates Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole.
Ferdinand became England’s youngest defender when, at 19 years and eight days, he made his debut as a substitute against Cameroon in November 1997 and eight months later he had his first taste of the FIFA World Cup as a non-playing squad member at France 98.
After 127 league appearances for the Upton Park club, Ferdinand left his native London and moved to Leeds United where he enjoyed a memorable introduction to UEFA Champions League football, playing in the team that reached the semi-finals in 2001.
By Korea/Japan 2002, he had developed into one of England’s most impressive performers – he appeared in all five games and headed the opening goal in the last-16 win over Denmark – and his efforts persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to spend £30m on luring him to Manchester United.
Ferdinand’s maiden campaign at Old Trafford ended with a first Premier League winner’s medal but in September 2003 he missed a routine drugs test and was punished with an eight-month ban that meant he was absent from England’s team at UEFA EURO 2004.
Ferdinand describes himself a “free spirit” and his life away from football includes ventures into fashion, film-producing and magazine-publishing. On the pitch, the 31-year-old leads by example. After featuring for England at his second FIFA World Cup in 2006, he went on to play a pivotal role in United’s capture of three successive Premier League titles from 2007-09.
Ferdinand, who has now made over 300 United appearances, considered 2008 a particularly memorable year as he captained his club to success in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. Indeed after lifting the third of those prizes following the December 2008 triumph over Liga de Quito in Yokohama, he described it as “my greatest year”. After returning from Japan, he duly played his part in helping United achieve a record of 13 consecutive Premier League clean sheets.
Troubled by a calf injury before the 2009 Champions League final, he has had an injury-hindered campaign in 2009/10. Shortly after earning his 75th England cap against Ukraine last October, Ferdinand was sidelined by a chronic back problem that also caused him to miss February’s League Cup final and the March friendly against Egypt which would have been his first opportunity to captain England since replacing John Terry as skipper. However, he will hope to be fighting fit to lead his country into the challenges ahead in South Africa.