Is This the End for Rio Ferdinand at Manchester United?

Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16:  Manchester United manager David Moyes and player Rio Ferdinand answer questions from the media during a press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford on September 16, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

At the end of this season, Rio Gavin Ferdinand will have completed his 12th year at Manchester United, having earned six Premier League medals along the way in an impressive haul of silverware since his arrival from Leeds United.

Technically one of the most blessed defenders of his generation in world football, Ferdinand has achieved everything possible within the realms of club football.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United in action during a first team training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen at Carrington Training Ground on September 16, 2013 in Manchester, En
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

However, the sands of time catch up with everyone, and this appears to be the case now for the boy from Peckham.

As United edged their way past Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night, the evidence of Ferdinand's aging body was clear and present. The clean sheet masked the defensive frailties displayed by the player on the night. 

In the first half, Ferdinand was closed down with alarming ease by the Ukrainian team's forwards, with him hemorrhaging possession cheaply and United almost conceding a goal. He was outrun and outfought at times, with his footballing brain not being sufficient enough anymore to get him out of the physical trouble in front of him. 

This has somewhat been the tale of Ferdinand's season, his two defensive partners both statistically outperforming him in many key areas. Comparing the statistics of Ferdinand and Jonny Evans makes for interesting reading.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 17:  Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans of Manchester United challenge Guille Franco of Villareal for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Manchester United and Villareal at Old Trafford on Sept
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When comparing tackles won, Evans has won 67 percent compared to Ferdinand's 55 percent. However, in aerial battles, the former West Ham player has only won 52 percent of his headers challenged for, compared to Evans' much more impressive offering of 74 percent.

These statistics seem to back up the general consensus of opinion regarding Ferdinand's fading influence in games. 

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United in discussion after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on September 14, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Ph
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The unique part of Ferdinand's game was the effortless amount of time he would seem to have on the ball. This has now apparently deserted him. Its evaporation from his armory has been sudden and immediate. 

It makes him less of the player that he once was and more of a critical liability. Just at a time when David Moyes needs the reliability of a super car, he is getting an old rusting vehicle that needs constant servicing and oil changes. 

Rio Ferdinand's time at Manchester United is about to come to its natural conclusion.

Luckily for United, the club has three excellent young centre-backs in the aforementioned Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Phil Jones of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford on December 10, 2013 in Manchester, Engla
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Jones' presence and influence in the first team are now evident, even to his biggest detractors. His excellent performance on Tuesday night was rewarded with the winning goal of the game.

Jones is very much needed in central midfield whilst Michael Carrick recovers from injury, but if the declines of both Ferdinand and Vidic continue, the young player will get that defensive position he craves.

Ferdinand has been a wonderful servant for United, but his body has caught up with his brain. David Moyes will have to show the same ruthless streak that Sir Alex Ferguson had and action the removal of the player for the good of his developing team. 

However, Moyes will hope that the predicted loss of an alpha male defender of Ferdinand's standing will not damage United's league position for an extended period of time.