Rio Ferdinand was a key member of one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United teams - if not *the* greatest.
The side that won the 2008 Champions League final was, in the eyes of some United fans, even more formidable than Fergie’s legendary teams of the 1990s.
Ferdinand played alongside some of the greatest players of the 2000s during his glittering 12-year spell at Old Trafford - but who does he rate as the best of the bunch?
In an exclusive interview with GIVEMESPORT, Ferdinand unsurprisingly sided with Cristiano Ronaldo - albeit with the caveat that Paul Scholes was the most naturally talented footballer he played alongside.
“Scholsey’s the most naturally gifted player I’ve played with,” Ferdinand said. “He wouldn’t kick a ball for six months, come back and still be on it, still be hitting the ball the same way. He’s more naturally talented than anybody.
“But I think obviously the best is Cristiano."
Have Ronaldo’s extraordinary achievements since leaving Man Utd for Real Madrid in 2008 surprised Ferdinand?
“I always knew he would be the best player in the world at some point,” Ferdinand insisted. “We all said it when we played against him at Sporting Lisbon - ‘this kid’s going to be the best player in the world’.
“But to do what he’s done and to stay at that level and to keep growing every year, over that period of time - nobody could have seen that, no chance, because it hadn’t been done before.
“All the great players we talk about: [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldinho, Brazilian Ronaldo, Kaka… they were all great players in the last 15-20 years but none of them hit the numbers and then continued that for 10-15 years in the way Cristiano has done.”
It is, therefore, no surprise that Ronaldo and Scholes both make Ferdinand’s dream 5-a-side team comprised of former teammates.
“I’d go [Edwin] van der Sar. Cristiano [Ronaldo]. [Paul] Scholes, Roy Keane and [Wayne] Rooney,” the legendary defender said.
“[Steven] Gerrard and [Frank] Lampard on the bench.”
Scholes has the edge over his former England teammates, at least in Ferdinand’s eyes.
One player who failed to make Ferdinand’s team is Juan Sebastian Veron, although Ferdinand says the Argentine midfielder was often unbelievable in training.
Veron, who joined United from Lazio for a record-breaking £28.1 million fee in 2001, failed to produce his best form in the Premier League and was subsequently sold to Chelsea two years later for £15 million.
But why did such a talented footballer struggle in United’s star-studded team under arguably the greatest manager of all time?
“I think Roy Keane was his biggest problem,” Ferdinand continued. “I think Seba was the one who dictated the game for every team he played for. He got the ball off the defenders and would then transfer it through the team, whereas Keane was doing that at United - he’d get it off the defenders and then give it to the more creative players.
“He was always in positions vocally demanding the ball from defenders before Seba, who was quite respectful of Roy as captain and probably thought ‘I’m going to have to change my game a little bit’, which didn’t help him. I think that was the main hindrance for Seba not living up to his reputation.
“In training, he was the guy who drew breath from people more than most. For a pass, bit of skill, a touch - he had everything. Great player.
“He done things in training - the whole training session would stop and say ‘oh my God!’. He’s one of the most talented passers of the ball I’ve ever seen.”
In terms of current players, Ferdinand believes the standard of defending has slipped dramatically since he retired in 2015.
“You look at the depth of centre-halves, there is no depth,” he said.
Asked to name the world’s best centre-backs, only two immediately spring to Ferdinand’s mind: “[Sergio] Ramos and [Virgil] van Dijk.”
After a brief pause, the 41-year-old added: “[Raphael] Varane’s up there, too.”
There was no mention for Harry Maguire, Man Utd’s under-fire captain and the most expensive defender of all time.
Ferdinand has some valuable words of advice for the England international, which you can read in Part I of our exclusive by clicking on the first link below.
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