While Nemanja Vidic was receiving a captain’s send-off in front of the Stretford End, his defensive partner for the best part of a decade was slinking about in the background. Rio Ferdinand hadn’t even been included in the Manchester United squad for their last home game of the season.
Yet there was more indignity to come for the defender. Reports from the Daily Mail claim Ferdinand was told by United vice-chairman Ed Woodward in the dressing room that his contract would not be renewed after Sunday’s game at Southampton. He likely still had a towel tied around his waist.
United should be embarrassed by the way they have treated Ferdinand. He deserves so much better.
Of course, the decision not to offer the 35-year-old a new contract was expected. At best, Ferdinand has been a bit-part player for United over the past two seasons, with younger defenders like Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all ahead of him in the pecking order.
But as Ferdinand trotted around the Old Trafford pitch for the final time, dressed in a club tracksuit rather than a club kit, watching Vidic lap up the adorations of the United support, he must have pondered where he’d done wrong.
Vidic was the one who decided to jump ship midway through the season by signing a pre-contract with Inter Milan. On the other hand, Ferdinand refused to decide his future before the end of the campaign, committing himself to United for as long as he could. So which one deserved the rousing send-off?
Ferdinand should have been afforded dignity in his exit. He should have been informed of the club’s decision before the final home game of the season against Hull City and certainly before Sunday’s trip to Southampton. He should have been given the chance to say goodbye to the club and the fans he has done so much for.
At his peak, Ferdinand was the epitome of the modern centre-back. He had everything. He was quick, read the game better than anyone else and was a natural leader. He rarely made a last-ditch tackle, like peers John Terry or Jamie Carragher, because he never had to. He might even be the best centre-back Man Utd ever had.
His defensive partnership with Vidic will go down as one of the best in Premier League history, if not the best. He arrived at Old Trafford with a hefty price tag hanging around his neck, but most would insist that he more than proved his worth in 12 years at United. That's £30 million well spent.
Ferdinand claims he took the decision to leave Man Utd himself, as per a statement published on his website (via BBC Sports). “I have thought long and hard over the last few months about my future, and after 12 fantastic years playing for what I regard the best club in the world, I have decided the time is right to move on,” he wrote in an open letter.
But there’s enough evidence to suggest Ferdinand would have stayed at United had a contract extension been offered.
When asked about his future last week by David Hytner of The Guardian, he replied, “I’d rather wait and see what happens at United and then there’ll be a decision to be made.” You don’t have to join too many dots to conclude Ferdinand was hopeful of at least one more year at the club.
At 35 years old, Ferdinand could have retired. After such a successful career nobody would’ve counted it against him. Perhaps United would have kept him on as an adopted member of the "Class of ‘92" coaching vein running through the club in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
But instead he will now look for a new club. “I’m fit, I’m healthy and I want to continue playing,” Ferdinand told The Guardian's Hytner. “I’ve spoken to a lot of mates of mine in the game and they all say the same thing – keep playing for as long as you can. I want to do that.”
He has been linked with a move to North America’s MLS, according to the Mirror, but just because Ferdinand is no longer good enough for United doesn’t mean he’s no longer good enough for the Premier League. For example, a return to West Ham would be beneficial for both parties and a fitting way to end a career—back where it all began for the defender.
The wisdom of letting Ferdinand and Vidic, possibly even Patrice Evra as well, go at the same time, especially in such a time of transition, is questionable. But if United are serious about rebuilding their ailing squad, such decisions are necessary.
Ferdinand might not have deserved a new contract at Man Utd, but he certainly deserved a more dignified exit.