Rio relief after injury nightmare


MANCHESTER, APRIL 12 – Rio Ferdinand insists he was never worried about making his return to the Manchester United side after his calf injury.

The defender, 32, missed 10 weeks with the injury before returning in last week’s 1-0 Champions League quarter-final first leg victory at Chelsea.

It was just the latest absence Ferdinand has had to endure in an injury-plagued couple of seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson gave the Manchester United captaincy to Nemanja Vidic at the start of the season because Ferdinand was sidelined so regularly.

But the centre back, who has also been replaced as England captain by John Terry, maintains he never had concerns about how he would cope being back in the United team.

He said: "In some ways it’s like a new beginning but I played a chunk of the season, 20-odd games and I picked up a calf injury but we’ve got players coming back who are quite fresh and chomping at the bit to play.

The manager will leave players disappointed but you know you’ll get the opportunities to come in and stake a claim for a regular place.

"Just because you’re injured, it doesn’t mean that you lose sight of what you’re doing.

"You watch the matches and you go to the home games and your eye is in, it’s just about going out and putting that into practice. When you’re playing with quality players it makes it easy."

Another player to have returned from injury in recent weeks is the Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia.

It looked like his season would be finished but he returned to fitness ahead of schedule in the 1-0 win over Bolton in March.

Ferguson thinks that having Valencia, who was outstanding in his debut season at Old Trafford, back will be a major boost for the rest of the campaign.

"We were looking forward to having him back and nearer the time we couldn’t get him back quick enough," Ferguson said.

The midfielder, who cost £16 million from Wigan in 2009, suffered a badly-broken ankle in the 0-0 draw with Rangers in September.

"We arranged behind-closed-doors games so he could get his tempo and rhythm back and I think that we just couldn’t wait to get him back in.

"Nani has had a fantastic season but to have two of them available for us is a tremendous boost at this time of year.

"He’s an outstanding footballer. His understanding of the game is terrific, he’s got a great tactical game, balance and power and good feet. The boy has got everything."

United have spent the last couple of months attempting to match their Treble of 1999.

They are in control at the top of the Premier League and face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

But many critics have claimed that this side is not comparable to the great teams of United’s history despite them challenging to equal their best ever campaign.

Ferguson feels that perception is down to United’s relatively poor away form in the Premier League.

He added: "It comes from some of the away performances this season. We haven’t won as many away games as we normally do and there’s a criticism of that.

"But when you look at our away record it’s second-best to Arsenal’s, it’s not the worst. But having only won five away games, it’s not criticism but the cooling of our performances away from home.

"We’ve been disappointed with one or two of our performances away from home. At Sunderland and Anfield they were poor performances."