Man Utd boss Ferguson: Rio's best years still ahead of him

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has been gushing in his praise for Rio Ferdinand today.

"Rio's best years are in front of him," said Ferguson. "He is easily going to play for the next five years. He looks after himself and he is very fit so I would expect him to be here for that length of time."

Many observers have pointed to Ferdinand's recent attack on the 'WAG' culture around the England team during their abysmal 2006 World Cup campaign as evidence of the player's growing desire to take on more responsibility.

Ferguson can see the difference, too, which is why he has been so unequivocal in his statement that Ferdinand will be United's next skipper once Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs finally call it quits.

"Rio has leadership qualities and we are really starting to see maturity in his game," said Ferguson.

"We always knew that he was good at taking the ball out of defence because he has such wonderful balance and great pace. Now we are seeing more edge to his game and more of a contribution in terms of being voluble towards his team-mates. He is much better at that."

However, as a fan of Italian masters Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, Ferguson can also see the same elegance in Ferdinand, which is the real attraction of a man who cost a club record £29.1million when he was signed from Leeds in 2002.

"He has always had a natural composure on the ball," said Ferguson. "His pace always gets him out of spots of trouble and he has lovely balance.

"They are three great assets to have in a defender because normally you talk about forwards and wingers being like that. All in all, you would have to say the lad has a lot going for him."

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