Manchester United may have lost at home on the opening day of the season for the first time since 1972 but Rio Ferdinand has no doubt which team will be celebrating come May.
He tells me defiantly: “I’m backing Manchester United to win the League.”
This puts him at odds with his former team-mate, and Standard columnist, Paul Scholes who sees the title returning to Stamford Bridge.
“I do not see Chelsea winning,” says the man who earned six Premier League medals and one from the Champions League at United.
Following Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea, United manager Louis van Gaal admitted the club’s confidence had been shot. However, Ferdinand says: “Manchester United will win because they’ve got a good manager. Wayne Rooney is a good choice as captain. This is his 10th year and he will be top scorer in the League this season. Obviously, they need their best players fit. Last season Robin van Persie did not play much but he could also be a top goal scorer.”
Ferdinand just as firmly dismisses Arsenal’s chances of joining United, Chelsea and City in the top four. “They have bought well but I just don’t know where all their players are going to fit in: Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, when he is fit, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski.”
This makes Liverpool Ferdinand’s fourth choice but he warns: “The biggest problem for Liverpool is that for many of their players, this is the first time they are playing in the Champions League. They are not used to the volume of games that they will have to play now and they’ve got a lot of new players who have to get accustomed to the new way of life.”
Champions League concerns are, of course, far removed for Ferdinand at his new club, Queens Park Rangers. “Success isn’t winning trophies at this club right now. It’s about staying in the Premier League and that’s obviously a big difference to playing for Man United where the expectations were huge in terms of winning. I’ve got to adjust to a different mindset.”
At Rangers, the 35-year-old is again enjoying his football, a sharp contrast to life with David Moyes last season, when he started only 12 Premier League games. “As a professional footballer, when you are not playing football you are not happy. So whenever I wasn’t playing at United that was exactly the case.
“When the call came from Harry [Redknapp], it filled me with happiness and a real sense that this is the right move for the last days of my career, to be back around people I know and trust.”
Redknapp gave Ferdinand his debut for West Ham in 1996 and Ferdinand admits that, had his first boss not rung out of the blue offering a one-year deal, his life would be very different. “If I hadn’t got the call from Harry, or I didn’t have a team in London, I would have retired. I was really set on coming back to London for the sake of my kids being around their grandparents, cousins, uncle and aunties, so they could have real good memories of family life.”
Not that Ferdinand was surprised by Redknapp’s approach. “I thought there might be an opportunity because there were rumours that he was going to buy me when he was at Spurs. That didn’t happen. But the way it has panned out has been really good.”
Glenn Hoddle, a new addition to Redknapp’s coaching staff, is another manager from Ferdinand’s past. He gave him his England debut in 1997 and so good was the reunion that Ferdinand left the first training session last Thursday with a big smile on his face.
It helps that, unlike many players, Ferdinand has never been threatened by Hoddle’s skills. “I love seeing people who are good. I like to find out how they do it and it is the same with Hoddle — he has touch, he’s poised, he’s nonchalant. When he used to train with us [for England] I used to love it and think how is he still doing it at his age? He was probably still the best player in training.
“Some people didn’t feel comfortable around it. They probably had an inferiority complex. But that’s the sign of a good manager, they see the game very clearly and can get that over to their players with the same clarity.”
Ferdinand loved playing for Sir Alex Ferguson — even though he could be hard to read. “It’s weird. There would be times when you would expect Fergie to come into the changing room [after a defeat] and he wouldn’t and there would be times when you were doing well and he would come in and destroy you. So you never knew where you were. Fergie picked his time.”
QPR’s return to the Premier League — and Ferdinand’s Rangers debut — ended in a 1-0 defeat to Hull although they would have got a point had Charlie Austin not missed his late penalty.
The club’s last two campaigns in the top flight saw an influx of high-profile signings and some proved to be bad buys. So how can all the squad stay motivated this time?
“It’s down to each individual to make sure their own house is in order,” he says. “That has an effect on everyone else. If you are looking after yourself and making sure you are in the right frame of mind, the right condition to go out to perform, you are helping your team-mates. When you start doing your own thing and not working as hard, the team starts to fall.”
While Ferdinand is happy to try to prevent that happening, he confesses he needs tutoring himself in his new job as a BT Sport pundit.
“I am more nervous as a commentator because you are going into the unknown. When I play, I’m on autopilot. I didn’t know anything about commentary. I know what I need to say but it’s projecting it in the right way, researching, getting everyone’s names, seeing the style of play that is going on and then translating that to the camera for people to understand. That’s something you’ve got to learn.”
Rio Ferdinand is an ambassador for BT Sport. This season BT Sport will show 38 Barclays Premier League matches exclusively live, plus top games from the FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and live action from six European leagues including the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the SPFL.