"I had a great time as a kid [at West Ham]. It was laugh-a-minute stuff, and maybe we were allowed to make more mistakes off the pitch than young lads are today."

- Rio Ferdinand

31/03/2011 09:53, Report by Adam Marshall
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Rio's Hammers time

Rio Ferdinand believes today's young players have better prospects for longevity than he did as a carefree West Ham rookie.

Speaking ahead of United's trip to his former home, Upton Park, the Reds defender revealed how much he enjoyed his footballing education with the Hammers but noted the game wasn't as geared up then for looking after players' long-term development. Rio also shed light on how his on-field priorities have changed with his maturing years.

"When I was a young lad at West Ham, I was more concerned about what piece of skill I’d pulled off against a forward, rather than keeping a clean sheet," Ferdinand told Inside United. "Not that there were all that many at West Ham in those days, mind you!

"But these days, when you’ve come off the pitch with a clean sheet it’s a tremendous feeling. As long as you get a clean sheet, you’re happy. It’s a mentality I’ve grown into over the years."

Ferdinand joined West Ham's youth system in 1992 and made his senior debut four years later. Still plying his trade more than a decade and a half later, the defender can see at first hand, at Carrington, how things have changed for the current crop of young hopefuls.

"Now’s probably a better time to be breaking into the game in terms of prolonging your career for as long as possible," Ferdinand added.

"There’s so much technology and so many structures in place to ensure you make it to the top, which gives you a better starting point than when I was a kid. The kids now know all about what to put into their bodies – and, just as importantly, what not to put into their bodies – and they’re exposed earlier to the pressures that come with being a professional footballer, which helps them in the long run.

"That said, I had a great time when I was a kid. It was laugh-a-minute stuff, and maybe we were allowed to make more

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