Former Red Alan Smith discusses his time with Rio Ferdinand at Leeds and Manchester United...
I think the move from West Ham to Leeds with the price-tag on his head was a big thing at the time but Rio, being Rio, took it in his stride. Those years he spent at Leeds were big years for him in terms of his development and he has matured so much since then.
Obviously, the next step was for Sir Alex to sign him and he’s been there over 10 years now which is incredible as it seems to have flown by. He’s now achieved so much and won so many trophies but we’ve seen he still has that desire to continue to try and win things. The FA Cup, I think, is the only medal he has not won yet, which is a shame but, hopefully, before his career finishes at Manchester United, he will manage to win it.
It was a difficult situation at Leeds as we were trying to find a formation to fit him in. We went with three at the back just because we had good defenders and the pressure was on for his debut at Leicester. Everybody’s first game is a little difficult after a big move and you can see that the pressure put on people is extraordinary. But Rio coming to Leeds was part of a learning curve for him before he went to Manchester United, a stepping stone, where he has had to deal with that kind of intense pressure. Initially, the run that we had at Leeds in the Champions League was important as Rio was integral to that – I think he’d only signed that January. He has just developed into a player that has gone on to achieve great things.
You could definitely tell at Leeds he was going to be a top player. He had every attribute you need, not just to be a centre-back but everywhere. He could play in a number of positions and I think he made his England debut at right-back. You could always tell that he was so comfortable in possession of the ball and coming out from the back. He was one of the first modern-day centre-backs where they are really comfortable in possession and probably more and more like a Spanish or continental type