Rio: The boss is in charge
Rio Ferdinand is happy to let Sir Alex Ferguson take control of his comeback from injury. The defender has been limited to just one game a week since finally returning to action against Rangers earlier this month following the knee injury that wrecked his 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
It meant the £29.1million central defender sat out English Premier League encounters with Liverpool and Bolton, instead heading to Scunthorpe to skipper United's Carling Cup team before slotting in alongside long-time colleague Nemanja Vidic in United's 1-0 victory at Valencia last night. Given United kept a clean sheet and looked more solid under pressure than at any other stage of the season, the desire to keep Ferdinand and Vidic together for Saturday's Premier League trip to Sunderland is obvious.
The 31-year-old certainly feels capable of taking the strain. But, as he is in agreement with Ferguson that he requires more time to reach his peak, Ferdinand is content to leave the matter in his manager's hands. "I feel I can play two games in a row," said Ferdinand. "It is obvious I need games. I have been out for so long, to expect to come back and play matches on the bounce straightaway would be wrong.
"I will just do what the manager asks me to do," he went on. "He is the most experienced man on the planet in football terms. I have to trust the manager's judgment and his views on me playing for the future of the season. If he deems it right for me to play on Saturday I would be delighted."
So too would Fabio Capello given the England manager is due to name his squad to face Montenegro on Monday. With Michael Dawson already out of contention and Joleon Lescott having been sidelined for a couple of weeks with a groin injury, Capello does have vacancies, especially for the man who is still his captain. The England boss still has a decision to make on that front, given Steven Gerrard has performed creditably in the role for eight out of the 10 matches since John Terry was stripped of the honour.
Ferdinand's future fitness is bound to play a part in Capello's thinking, although the former West Ham star insists talk of the lengths he is going to in order to save his back from aggravation - including standing for the majority of the flight out to Valencia, but not on the way back - is being overblown. "It's rubbish really," he said. "I did some stretching before the game last night but that was not for my back. That is just an assumption. My back is fine. There is no problem."
After conceding nine goals in their past five Premier League games, United's defending has started to come under intense scrutiny. Jonny Evans was not even selected on the bench last night as United collected a rare victory on Spanish soil to move to the forefront of Group C and put themselves into a healthy position ahead of their double-header with Turkish champions Bursaspor.
Although Ferguson has offered his support to the Northern Ireland international, there have been some critical assessments of his recent performances. However, as a fellow member of the defender's club, Ferdinand is not too concerned at United's recent lapses. "A lot has been made about us not keeping clean sheets but I have been at all the games and have not seen us get opened up in a manner that would make it a real crisis," he said. "We have been a little bit unfortunate and unlucky in certain circumstances, maybe even naive at points but I don't see it as a massive problem."
Nevertheless, having needlessly dropped points at Fulham and Everton, then been forced to twice come from behind to earn a share of the spoils at Bolton, Ferdinand is aware United have a bit of catching up to do on Chelsea, who lost their 100 per cent record at Manchester City last weekend.
"When you drop points against anyone you put yourself under pressure," he said. "The seasons we have lost the league have been the ones where we have given teams a head start. It seemed like we were doing that until last weekend but now the gap is three again, which I wouldn't say it is a massive difference at this stage of the season. As long as we kick on from now and get on a good run of victories we will be all right."