Until a new contract is signed, or until an announcement is made that Rio Ferdinand is leaving Manchester United at season's end, the speculation will continue as to whether or not the defender will be leaving the club when his current contract expires in the summer. The 34-year-old, who has now has been at Old Trafford for over a decade, has yet to clearly indicate if he'll continue on or not. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, though, seems to think Rio will stay at United:
"I don't think Rio wants to leave. I don't think we're panicking about that. We are comfortable with that. I don't think his contract issue comes into it at all. It doesn't matter if he was here for another three years, we would still be dealing with his playing time the best we can. There is no way you would be expecting him to play every four days right through a season. Getting rest at the right time definitely helps him. His preparation is good. He does a lot of work on his pre-match preparation now. He does yoga and a lot of other things to help him sustain his playing time. I have said before, he can play on. I don't think he has the same issue with his back that he had a couple of years ago. It is manageable now. That is the important thing."
- Ferguson | Source: ManUtd.com
The gaffer clearly indicates the Rio is wanted and he also makes a good point on how well handled the injuries have been handled. In the past twelve months or so, the former England international has only missed a few games due to any sort of knock. He's been rotated plenty -- which certainly has been beneficial to younger center-backs like Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones -- but he continues to be first-choice for each of United's biggest games. Rio, himself, along with the manager, have admitted that he sits a step or two deeper nowadays due to a decline in pace. His positional awareness, though, and his organization of the defense is tremendous. He looks vulnerable when players with pace run at him in space but in general, he's still very good. In addition, by all accounts, his presence in the dressing room, especially with the younger players, is invaluable. This could be of further value if both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes retire in the summer.
Fergie also had praise for Jonny Evans, a player he sees as one of the heir apparents to the great Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic axis:
"He is the future. Nemanja [Vidic] and Rio know that. There is no doubt. His form is improving all the time. I think his experience helps. As he matures and gets experience year-by-year, he is getting better. There is no end to his improvement. He looks as if he is improving all the time. That, for us, is a great sign."
The manager clearly has great faith in Evans, his most durable central-defender these past few seasons. With Vidic's right-knee still needing careful attention, and with Smalling and Jones not being fully established yet as clear first-choice players, Rio's experience adds a nice blend to the center-back personnel. It would be to United's benefit if he signed on for at least another year.