Rio Ferdinand has never been a man frightened of sharing an opinion, and today the former Manchester United defender has weighed in on the subject of John Stones’ future, with the young Everton centre-half said to be in the middle of a two-way tussle between the Red Devils and Premier League champions Chelsea.
While Chelsea are believed to have made their intentions abundantly clear with a £20m, then £26m bid for the youngster – both subsequently rejected by the Toffees – it is thought that Louis van Gaal is ready to show his hand, leaving Stones with a direct choice between the two should Everton’s resolve eventually wilt.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Ferdinand has today been championing the club with whom he won all of his many, many medals, believing Stones’ future would be better served at the heart of United’s defence, not Chelsea’s.
His line of argument isn’t anything new, telling the Guardian:
“If he goes to Chelsea, he’s not playing every week… if he goes to Manchester United, he plays every week so that’s the right club for him.”
But is the ex-England man viewing Stones’ potential dilemma through Red-tinted Ray Bans? The facts suggest he might be.
It’s certainly true that Chelsea have gained a reputation over the years for buying fresh English talent and failing to play them regularly. Stones might well look at a list including Glen Johnson, Scott Parker, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell, Ross Turnbull and Daniel Sturridge and side with Ferdinand.
But the other side of the coin is a whole lot shinier. The likes of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Gary Cahill became mainstays of this glittering Chelsea generation, not to mention the national side, proving that if you’re good enough, you will be selected at Stamford Bridge.
Last season 34-year-old Terry played every minute of every game as the Blues won the title with the division’s best defence.
For the majority of the campaign, Chelsea’s rearguard remained tinker-free. Along with Terry, Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic made over 35 league appearances, Cesar Azpilicueta came in on 29 to complete the core four, with Kurt Zouma and Filipe Luis acting as the able deputies with 15 outings each.
For all the cheap jibes about parking buses, Mourinho, as one of the best proponents of modern-day defensive football, knows that for a backline to be at its best, it requires stability.
Contrast that to United, where none of their defenders managed anything better than Chris Smalling’s 25 appearances, with over 12 players used in defence last term (including makeshift cameos from midfielders).
Van Gaal’s frequent meddling between systems, shifting between three, four and five at the back – often between games – only added to the sense of confusion and instability. Injuries have also played their part in the muddle.
Where once United could boast one of the best back fours in Europe – with Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at its heart – in Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans it now lists a litany of promising young defenders struggling to live up to their promise. This is no longer the United that enabled a young Rio to thrive.
Ferdinand knows this only too well, conceding in the very same interview that:
“I don’t think [Van Gaal] knows his best defence – that’s a problem in itself.”
Stones’ conundrum essentially boils down to two scenarios. Does he want to join a United team in transition (5/1 fourth favs for the title), be expected to marshal a constantly changing backline, and risk digging the same centre-back grave as Evans and co?
Or does he instead want to join the current champions, the 33/20 favourites to claim successive Premier League crowns, to work under the best defensive coach on the planet, and be groomed as the long-term natural successor to the best English centre-back of a generation?
His answer may not be to Rio’s liking.