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Manchester United v Chelsea: Ferdinand is Fergie’s man for the big occasion

Sir Alex Ferguson knew what was coming when he saw Rio Ferdinand driving over to him at a Manchester United youth-team game last week — and he was elated.

Ferdinand has endured yet another campaign scarred by injury.

The 32-year-old had been sidelined by a calf problem sustained in the warm-up prior to Manchester United's defeat at Wolves on February 5.

At one point, his recovery prospects seemed so bleak Ferguson hinted Ferdinand might not be back for the rest of the season.

But that Sunday at Carrington, the deposed England skipper was delivering a message. It was exactly what Ferguson wanted to hear.

“You only drive half a mile from our training ground to the complex where the youth-team games are played for one reason,” said Ferguson.

“I said to the guy next to me 'he wants to play'. I was pleased because I was praying he would be fit.”

Ferguson means no slight on Chris Smalling.

But he knew how crucial Ferdinand's experience could be at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday — and he was not disappointed.

“That was probably one of his best performances in a United jersey,” said Ferguson. “It was magnificent.

“At his age [21], we don't expect Chris Smalling to be directing and shouting at players. Rio does that really well.

“He has composure on the ball. He didn't panic. He handled everything.

“I knew it would happen because all the incentives were there —adrenalin, coming back into the team, the importance of the occasion... It was ideal for Rio.”

Ferdinand has a different take on the Sunday meeting. And when Ferguson brought it up yesterday the former West Ham defender used it as a lever to fulfil a promise he made on his Twitter page to introduce the phrase 'Stay on your feet' into the press conference.

“I did actually go over there to watch the youth game,” he said.

“But when I saw the manager's grey puffa jacket I did make a bit of a beeline to him and speak to him. I just wanted to make sure there were no grey areas and that he knew I was definitely all right.”

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