Let there be no doubt, a cold chill of fear will seep through Sir Alex Ferguson’s veins today. England captain Rio Ferdinand’s omission from the Scot’s matchday squad yesterday after the defender felt a twinge in his fragile back at Carrington Tuesday morning represents a huge blow for club and player alike.
“He felt a twinge in his back this morning. We did a warm-up at Carrington this morning and he felt a twinge,” said Ferguson in the aftermath of United’s 3-0 win over West Ham United at Old Trafford last night.
“We couldn’t risk it of course. He’s had twinges before and we can’t take any chances. He won’t be ready for Sunday. It is unfortunate for him that he’s going to miss a couple of games.
“”Rio has been training great – there had been no mishaps at all.”
The defender will now miss at least Sunday’s Carling Cup final and presumably England’s friendly with Egypt too. But the fear that the defender’s injury is much worse than a two game absence must pervade. History, when it comes to Ferdinand’s back, points to a lengthy time in the treatment room for the 30-year-old former-Leeds United defender.
Ferdinand, who has featured in just 11 United games this season, has suffered recurring back-related problems since the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2008. Missing more than 50 per cent of United matches in that time, Ferdinand’s injury is highly disruptive to the player’s form and Ferguson’s tactical thinking.
The defender’s calm assurance at the heart of United’s defence cannot be underestimated in a season where United has lost nine times in all competitions – most without Rio in the side.
In the Rio’s absence Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans have each featured but only when fit enough to play themselves. Vidic, superb against West Ham United on Tuesday, has played in just 19 United games after being sidelined with a mysterious nerve injury. Brown, never the most reliable when it comes to fitness, has played 28 and Evans, who suffered a serious ankle injury earlier this campaign has played 23.
But that’s not really the point. Stats aside, Evans’ potential and Brown’s heart cannot match just yet Rio’s class and experience. Ferdinand is absolutely central to United’s ability to maintain parity with the club’s leading challengers, at home and especially abroad.
Should Ferdinand’s injury not clear up within the week the defender will miss Sunday’s match with Aston Villa, the Premier League clash with Wolverhampton Wanders and potentially the Champions League second leg against AC Milan at Old Trafford.
Even if by some miracle Ferdinand returns early then he still has just 10 Premier League games to play himself into form and match fitness before the season ends, hopefully, with a Champions League final in Madrid on 22 May.
Better news came from Vidic whose performance offered some classy professionalism to United’s rearguard after the shambolic defending at Everton last weekend.
“It is nice to be back,” said the Serbian, who featured for the first time in 2010 last night.
“It’s a long time since I last played and I didn’t feel any reaction, so I am very happy. This year has been very frustrating. When I finished last season, I thought this one would be even better.
“But I missed pre-season, then had this injury and have been out for another two months recently.
“I hope it is all in the past now and I can look forward to the next few games.”
Ferguson will need him and then, with no new contract signed and Vidic free to leave in 2012, the Scot may find himself needing to replace two experience central defenders in the summer.