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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Rio dubbed 'Europe's best'
Rio Ferdinand
Ferdinand's last league game was against Wolves in January
Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp believes Rio Ferdinand is the best centre-half in Europe as the Manchester United prepares to return after his ban.

Absent for the last eight months after missing a drugs test, Ferdinand is set to play against Liverpool on Monday.

Redknapp, who nurtured Ferdinand at West Ham, told BBC Sport: "I think he is the best defender in Europe.

"People say Alessandro Nesta is different class, but Rio is a special, special player. He has everything."

Redknapp added: "Rio has got pace, he is good on the ball, and at 6ft 4in, he's good in the air."

"Rio knows he's made a mistake and he has got on with it. I think he will come back as strong as ever.

"It's been difficult for him. He has missed Euro 2004, the FA Cup final, World Cup qualifiers - those are big games.

"It must have been very hard for him sitting there watching his teammates play, because he loves playing football."

When he was West Ham manager Redknapp sold Ferdinand to Leeds for 18m in November 2000 smashing the British transfer record.

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But the Portsmouth manager is still in regular contact with the Manchester United defender.

"Rio is a naturally fit boy and he has trained well, so he will come back fit.

"He's a player who doesn't struggle with his weight and fitness. He is lean and very fast and he will get trhough those early games just through the way he reads the game."

Redknapp also insisted Ferdinand would come back a stronger player psychologically from the ban.

"I don't think he has anything to prove to anyone.

"He has a strong character. He is not the first young player to make a mistake. I don't think he realised the importance of the test; he certainly knows it know.

"But he has it in his makeup to come back and I think he will return as strong as ever.

"He has had strong support from his family and from Alex Ferguson and he is at a great club.

"I think he will show to everyone how much Manchester United have missed him."

Redknapp also believes that United, both during last season and the current campaign have suffered in Ferdinand's absence.

"They've missed him massively," said Redknapp.

"You can't take a top player out of your team and not miss him. It's the equivalent of Arsenal losing Thierry Henry or Patrick Vieira."

But Redknapp also thinks that Arsenal's lead in the Premiership could be to big a points gap for United to overhaul.

He said: "United have it all to do. Can you give Arsenal a nine-point lead, it's very doubtful, though when Alex gets them all back - Rio, Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha - they'll go on a run and they won't lose that many games."

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