Sir Alex Ferguson believes Rio Ferdinand can continue to play for Manchester United for years to come because of his ability to ‘manage’ the back problem that has plagued his career.

 

Ferdinand, who is expected to play tonight as United go in search of extending their gap at the top of the Premier League by three points, has featured in just 87 games in all competitions over the past three seasons - although he has featured more regularly in this campaign - largely because of a persistent back problem.

 

Ferguson, who has previously admitted the 33-year-old would have to ‘tailor his game’ having ‘lost a yard of pace’ over the past five years, believes Ferdinand still has plenty left in the tank to play on for the foreseeable future.

 

Asked whether he has been surprised by Ferdinand’s level of fitness this season, Ferguson replied: “It's not surprised me in the sense that he's still young for a centre- back.

 

“In normal terms you would expect a centre-back with his athleticism to play well into their thirties anyway. But he had the back problem which we all know about. So we've had to manage that and by managing it properly he has adapted really well to it.

 

"If you look to the other week – I didn't want to play him against Bilbao, but with Jones calling off with flu, I played him and he played on the Sunday also. So he's adapting really well to the challenge of making sure he is fit and fresh to play in the games we need him.

 

“I think it's all down to how he feels physically and what he is doing at the moment is good. He has no issues at all. I think from time to time he gets the odd tweak in his back and we have to manage it and look after it."

 

Ferdinand is contracted until 2013 at Old Trafford but has been the subject of newspaper speculation linking him with a move to Major League Soccer as well as reported interest from Chinese and Russian teams.

 

However Ferguson believes that aside from his natural ability, Ferdinand can still play an invaluable role off the pitch in helping develop youngsters such as Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans at the club, meaning he may be offered a new deal at Old Trafford.

 

"I keep thinking that I signed Rio three or four years ago. I forget he's been here for almost 10 years,” he said.

 

“He has taken on that role of the influential person in the dressing room. He's great in the dressing room with the players. He's brilliant.

 

“It is an advantage if you can keep the older players long enough for their influence to spread because in the modern game it's difficult to keep players for more than five or six years. It's not easy but the longer they stay here the better the influence spreads to them and they can take over from the older players as they disappear."

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Football
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Manchester United
Rio Ferdinand