It’s a simple question that prompted a thoughtful response ahead of his Old Trafford testimonial on Friday evening, when thousands of Reds honoured one of the most trophy-laden careers of any player in the club’s illustrious history.
Admittedly, I opened this discussion during recent interviews with Rio’s former team-mates and managers, all set up to gather words of praise for a handsome feature in his official testimonial programme. However, after speaking to defining characters from various stages of his career, a familiar theme became unavoidable.
It turns out everybody from Harry Redknapp to Steve McClaren cites Ferdinand as the best of his generation. But it was John O'Shea who made me seriously consider my own question. “Fans ask where Rio ranks amongst the great United defenders, and I have to say he's got to be up there,” he explained. “It's difficult to compare different generations but you can't argue with his medal collection. There are few better.” John was right, too.
Rio’s résumé is almost impeccable. He's won six league titles, two League Cups, the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. All that eludes him is the FA Cup. And with 432 appearances to his name, plus eight goals, the stats aren’t bad either.
But is he the greatest? To answer, you first must consider the competition.
A strong argument can be made in support of Nemanja Vidic, one of United's most distinguished club captains who has lifted 10 major trophies since January 2006, scoring 19 goals in 266 outings. But could he have done so without combining his Serbian steel with Rio's silk? It's unlikely.