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Page last updated at 06:08 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 07:08 UK

Is Rio ready to be England's leading man?

Rio Ferdinand

By Phil Dawkes

If you believe in omens, this year's World Cup in South Africa could be a very good one for England.

The last time a West Ham-educated centre-back led the country into the world's biggest football tournament they ended up lifting the trophy.

Now, 44 years after Bobby Moore provided England with its most iconic football moment at Wembley, another graduate of the Hammers academy Rio Ferdinand is aiming to provide a whole new generation with a golden snapshot of their own in Johannesburg's newly constructed Soccer City Stadium.

At 31, Ferdinand is six years older than Moore was when he captained England during the 1966 World Cup and, unlike his Barking-born predecessor who spent 16 years with his first club, the Manchester United man has long since departed Upton Park.

Wayne Rooney

World Cup guide - England

However, in their composure on the ball, ability to read the game and their approach to captaincy the two share much in common.

"Bobby Moore was not the greatest of talkers but led by example and, generally, how he read the game was a large part of his leadership," former England captain and West Ham legend Sir Trevor Brooking, now the Football Association's director of football development, told BBC Sport.

"I wouldn't say Rio is the most vocal or demonstrative of captains but he does enough when required and again tries to set his own standards which are those he wants others to replicate.

"He came through the West Ham system, which from the era of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall was to develop players who passed from the back and were encouraged to come into midfield positions and dictate play."

Brooking is better positioned than most to draw such comparison, having played as part of the Moore-led West Ham side and also holding a place on the board at Upton Park during Rio's time at the club, while more recently overseeing much of the defender's England career from his vantage point at the FA.

"As a young player I used to look up to Bob," says Brooking. "To say I was to some extent in awe of him was understandable.

"During training you would see how hard he worked to retain that level and continue to do that job and role.

West Ham United 1995-2000: 158 games, 2 goals
Bournemouth (loan) 1996: 10 games, 1 goals
Leeds United 2000-2002: 87 games, 3 goals
Manchester United 2002-Present: 329 games, 7 goals
England 1997-Present: 77 games, 3 goals

"I remember as a schoolboy I was injured one or two times and used to come in on a Sunday morning to get treatment and Bobby Moore was always in and lapping around the pitch.

"He'd played the day before and like many players then he used to go out and have a drink so he came in on a Sunday morning as a ritual to sweat out what he'd had on the night after the game.

"Nobody else was in but Bobby felt it was important to his fitness and to continue setting a standard. He was England captain, he didn't have to do that but he was still working to keep his fitness and to keep those standards.

"When Rio is with the seniors he works really hard.

"I remember at the 2006 World Cup he was possibly our most outstanding player. He was really focused for that tournament and you could see how much he wanted to be associated with a winning England team."

Whilst undoubtedly supremely talented from an early age, Ferdinand's route from a deprived estate in Peckham to becoming England captain and, according to his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson, "the best centre-half in the world by far" has not been without its wrong turns.

In 2003, he was suspended for eight months, causing him to sit out Euro 2004 as a result, for missing a drugs test and then two years later was banned from driving for speeding - the third time he has committed such a crime and the fourth ban of his life, after a drink-driving offence in 1997.


But Ferdinand cuts a more mature figure now, a testimony to which is his overseeing of the Rio Ferdinand Live The Dream Foundation to establish a series of centres in deprived areas to mentor teenagers, and is fulfilling the expectations that have followed him from a young age.

As West Ham academy director Tony Carr explains: "Rio was naturally talented, he could do everything, he could head it, he could pass it, he could score, he was a good defender, he could create goals. He was great athletically, he was a real natural talent.

"You could never predict at 14 or 15 years of age that someone could play for England, let alone captain England. These things happen naturally, but when you look back, you think it's not really a big surprise he was destined to be of that grade.

"You always felt he had those leadership qualities. He was very confident, outgoing and would speak his mind, in the right way."

Ferdinand's former Leeds and England team-mate Danny Mills feels the centre-back has grown in stature since then boss David O'Leary made him captain of the Elland Road club for the 2001/02 season.

"When he was made captain at Leeds he was still very young," Mills told BBC Sport. "But what that does is mature a player, gives them more responsibility and maybe makes them a little bit more serious in terms of looking after the team and thinking about others.

"I think that was really good for Rio at the time and good for the team. He probably became aware that it wasn't just about himself and that he has to look after the team as well.

Bobby Moore lifts the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966
World Cup winning captain Moore remains an iconic figure in England

"I think he's a very good captain. He's not afraid to say his piece, he's forthright in his opinions and after being vice-captain for England it's a natural progression after John Terry lost the captaincy."

It is to the man Ferdinand has become that England coach Fabio Capello turned in February when the destabilising effect of the allegations into Terry's private life cost the Chelsea defender his status as national captain.

Capello's approach to the situation was typical of the unflustered manner in which he has gone about his England reign and also the less complex view of captaincy taken by many other countries - including Capello's native Italy - who opt not to burden their sporting captains with the British desire that they be unreproachable moral leaders.

"Fabio was always quite relaxed about it," says Brooking. "He didn't appoint anyone initially until we started the competitive games.

"Rio and John and others were some of the individuals who had the captaincy as it was shared around. But I think Fabio would have been quite comfortable with one from three or four individuals who put themselves forward.

"When he initially made the announcement he said he felt they had all done a good job, but it would stay with John and Rio would be next in line and Gerrard after that.

"It was just a natural progression from his point of view."

Mills agrees that the choice was the right one.

England's World Cup qualifying highlights

"For me, I think he is a better character than Steven Gerrard to be captain," he said.

"From knowing Rio and his personality, him being at the back, the invention - he can be very lively - but also the experience and ability he has can be a calming influence as well.

"He left Leeds and went to Manchester United and he's progressed and has become a better player, more mature, playing for one of the best clubs in the world for a long time, working with some of the best and learning from them.

"Every footballer gets to that point of thinking, 'if only I'd have known what I know now 10 years ago I would have been a far better player' and I think Rio has grown into that, learned from his mistakes, realised what it is about and hopefully will go on and be there or thereabouts when it comes to lifting the World Cup."

Of course, there are those who would argue that in international football it makes little difference who is captain, as a side at the highest level will invariably be comprised of players who possess a supreme level of professionalism and ambition or have already gained captaincy experience in club football.

"There is a different type of maturity in an international team," says Brooking. "If players are good enough to play at that level it is because there is something about them that already possesses leadership skills and they are focused and determined as an individual.

"There were many in the 1966 World Cup winning side who were leaders in their own way.

"In the current England squad there is Gerrard who is Liverpool captain, Frank Lampard, who has leadership qualities and would probably be skipper at Chelsea if Terry didn't play in the same team, Gareth Barry has, and Wayne (Rooney) has had his couple of opportunities. They are used to setting standards in any team structure."

Having overcome the back and ankle problems that have blighted his season, Ferdinand is ready to take his place as England's chosen leader, with a romantic notion of destiny hanging in the air.

At a recent testimonial for Carr, Ferdinand wore the number six claret and blue jersey made famous by his famous predecessor Moore, and retired from use in honour of the Hammers legend after his death 17 years ago.

"I said to Rio after the game, 'I hope the number six brings you luck'," revealed Carr. "'A famous West Ham and England number six lifted the World Cup in 1966 and I just hope that rubs off on you'."

Additional reporting by Frank Keogh.

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see also
World Cup scouting: centre-backs
23 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
Ferguson backs captain Ferdinand
06 Feb 10 |  Man Utd
Capello strips Terry of captaincy
05 Feb 10 |  Football
England captain role 'overstated'
04 Feb 10 |  Football
Ferdinand dismisses fitness fears
17 Dec 09 |  Man Utd
Terry appointed England captain
19 Aug 08 |  Internationals
Ferdinand delight at captain role
25 Mar 08 |  Internationals
Rio Ferdinand banned for speeding
25 May 05 |  Staffordshire
Ferdinand banned for eight months
19 Dec 03 |  Football

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