On this day 17 years ago, Rio Ferdinand joined Manchester United from Leeds United in a deal worth £30m. However, that wasn’t enough to impress Roy Keane in his first training session for the club.
On July 22, 2002, Ferdinand was presented at Old Trafford after a lengthy transfer saga. Leeds and Man United were bitter rivals, and Ferdinand was highly coveted after an excellent showing for England at the World Cup in the Far East.
The 23-year-old had four years left on his deal with Leeds – who would be relegated within two years, going into a financial meltdown – and put in a transfer request to force through the move. Eventually, after Man United submitted three bids, Leeds accepted and for the second time in his career, Ferdinand became the most defender in the world.
When presenting the player to the media, Alex Ferguson predicted he would also become the best defender in the world.
“I think improvement is the vital organ here as far as I’m concerned,” Ferguson said at Old Trafford.
“At 23 years of age, you know there’s great potential. What we hope and from what we know, we’re very confident he will mature here and develop into the best centre-half in the world.
“I think his physical aspects, his ability on the ball are there for all to see and they’ve been there since he was a kid. I think in the next three to four years we’re going to get great service from him. He will mature in that period where players get authority.”
Ferdinand would prove excellent value for money over the next 11 seasons at Old Trafford. An elegant, ball-playing defender, and lightning-quick in his prime, the former England captain broke the mould for British centre-halves.
Across 455 appearances for the Red Devils, he won the Premier League six times, the League Cup twice, he captained United to Champions League glory in 2008 and won the Club World Cup a few months later. And, along with Nemanja Vidic, Ferdinand formed one of the most accomplished central defensive partnerships in Premier League history.
However, before all of that Ferdinand got a crash course in what was expected of Man United players by Roy Keane, the club captain when he joined.
In his very first training session, Keane reprimanded Ferdinand for the crime of passing the ball sideways rather than forward.
“I got the ball and passed to Gary [Neville], who was on my team. In a normal game that was a great ball – pass to your teammate, go up the pitch.
“And then Keane turned around and just started going, ‘Pass the f**king ball forward, take risks, you’re not at Leeds or West Ham now, you’re at Manchester United!’
“I got home later that day and thought, ‘This guy is nuts, how am I going to deal with him on a daily basis?’
The Irishman was a tough taskmaster, but Rio would soon understand Keane’s message.
“And then I realised that you’ve got to take chances and that’s how I ended up playing my career. Not just passing the simple ball to Gary, but into the strikers to make a difference.”