Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United defender, is a legend in his own right.
After 20 successful years at the top and winning 11 major trophies, he is now using his wisdom and experience to inspire the next generation of English players.
Rio delivered a pep talk to England’s Under 16s this week before they jetted off to Sarasota to take on the United States, Brazil and Holland in the annual Nike Tournament.
During the talk, he revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo was so embarrassed about his wayward shooting tactics during his early days at United that he would practise after training on a pitch out of view of the rest of the players.
“He didn’t have a great shot when he came. He had a powerful shot but it went everywhere. He used to go out after training, he was embarrassed,” Ferdinand said.
“He used to have a bag of balls and went to a pitch right over the other side so he could hide behind the trees.”
“It was ‘Ronnie, where you going man?’”
‘I’m just going over there.’
‘What’s wrong with you?’
“But after a few months it was ‘oh he does shooting, does stepovers’. He used to put weights on his feet and do these stepovers.
[We said] ‘Are you mad, what are you doing?’ Until he started bamboozling people.”
“You get to the stage where he’s flying with Man United but it ain’t enough. He wants to be the best. He ain’t getting the ball and doing all these mad tricks all the time, he wants efficiency, he wants goals, assists, that’s all he cared about.”
“It’s about bettering yourself. Get in the Under 16s, then I want to get in the 18s. Get in the 18s, then you want to get in the 19s, 21s, the first team.”
“You set targets, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Until the last day I played football, I had targets.”
The 37-year-old, who retired from football back in May, won 81 caps for his country and is one of several Three Lions heroes to deliver motivational talks to England’s youth teams apart from Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
Ferdinand also tells the team of Young Lions that Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero was the toughest striker he ever faced: “He’s a nightmare. He’s small, stocky, strong, quick as hell and will go both ways.”
“He will go left and shoot with his left, or go right and shoot with his right. With players like [Luis] Suarez, push him on his left all day long because he’ll cut back on his right.”
“Someone like Aguero, he’ll take that left and it’s so hard to get a yard against someone so quick, especially in the box and he bangs it in with both feet.”
“For me, he was the hardest to play against for a long time.”
Ferdinand also revealed that he would visualise Thierry Henry’s moves when going to sleep the night before facing him.
Advising the young players that we should be grateful to watch football at a time when Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are in their prime, he said: “It’s two different superstars. Messi is a genius, he shouldn’t be that good. He’s small, if you were going to build a footballer, you’d build Ronaldo.”
“So Messi is working from a disadvantage straight away and he’s doing ridiculous things, he’s an artist, a genius.”
“Ronaldo is like a driven, well-oiled machine who has made himself a superstar. Messi is more of a natural, it’s been given to him. Someone has looked down and said ‘you’re the man’”.