The big interview: Rio Ferdinand – "On my first day at United I could hear Solskjaer saying: 'How much? Thirty million? What?!'"

Why did he do ballet as a kid? How did his 2003 ban for missing a drugs test change him? And why did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bully him on his first day at Manchester United? Your questions answered in February 2013...

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Is it right you were so good at ballet as a kid that you won a scholarship to London’s School of Ballet? How did that go down with your mates on the estate in Peckham?!
Don Berry, via Facebook
That’s right. At first I didn’t tell my mates because they would have ripped me all day long. I just told them I was doing drama. I did it for two years, then in my third year I told my mates. I was one of the lads anyway and they were fine to be fair to them. It was a big commitment though because it used to take me two hours to get there and I had to go three times a week. Then I got to a point where my dad said, “Do you want to be a footballer or a ballet dancer? You have to make a decision because it’s taking up too much of your time.” Luckily I chose football! But the ballet had a good effect on my career because of the flexibility, strength and balance you learn.


  • Date of birth: November 7, 1978
  • Height: 6ft 2in
  • Place of birth: Peckham, London

How easily do you think you might have got into trouble as a youngster – and was it football that kept you away from mischief?
Lukas Sans, Oslo
My dad would have killed me as a kid so I kept my trouble to a minimum, but when I got to about 13 I knew I wanted to be a footballer so everything revolved around that. I’d only hang around on the estate until a certain time when my bus came to go to training, whereas some of my other mates who also had training would say, “No I’m gonna stay and have a few fags and drinks”. At the end of the day, because of my application and my desire to become a footballer I am where I am today.

Brother Anton, cousins Les and Kane, yourself – who makes up the Ferdinand five-a–side team? Can you think of another family from the history of football that could beat you lot?
Lisa Williamson, London
The Nevilles would have a good go – their sister is sporty as well. But there’s no one else coming through just yet for the Ferdinands. My kids [two sons and a daughter] are a bit young to really have an opinion on whether they’ll like football, but I don’t want to put any pressure on them. So we’re stuck on a four-a-side team for now.

The Ferdy four-a-side would be alright a man short

After shining in West Ham's youth team you spent four years under Harry Redknapp. What’s your funniest memory of him as manager? And how does his hairdryer compare to Fergie’s?
Steven Ruffhead, via Facebook
Harry could never hide that he was upset or angry at you for anything. He’d walk out to training and we’d be like, “Oh god, he’s had a bad day on the horses or he’s had a bad phone call". So before he even started going bananas you knew what was coming because his face told you the picture straight away. Harry could lose it but Fergie is different – you don’t know it’s coming and he gets the last word in no matter what. It’s normally a strong, strong, strong word! Harry was brilliant for me, though, I’ve always felt indebted to him for giving me my debut.

Would you and your brother make a decent defensive pair? Has reuniting with him and Harry Redknapp at QPR crossed your mind?
Sam Greene, Oxford
No, I want to continue trying to win things and challenge for stuff. All those sentimental things go out of the window for me to be honest. I’ve never played with Anton. He’s seven years younger than me so I always just slapped him around the house or bullied him down the park but he’s a big fella now. People forget the age gap… it must be because I’m so young looking!


  • 1995-2000 West Ham; 152 apps (2 goals)
  • 1996-97 Bournemouth (loan); 10 (1)
  • 2000-02 Leeds United; 73 (3)
  • 2002-14 Manchester United; 405 (7)
  • 1997-2011 England; 81 (3)

Glenn Hoddle said he intended to use you as a Matthias Sammer-style libero for England before he got sacked, coming out of defence in a 3-5-2. Is that a role you’d have enjoyed?
Tom Wales, via email
Yeah, one of my biggest regrets was that Glenn didn’t continue as England manager. I really felt the team would have gone on to better things if he’d stayed and the players loved playing for him. I think his ideas were too much before his time. Glenn encouraged me to take the ball and run out of defence with it, whereas managers like Sven didn’t like centre-halves running with the ball. I loved taking on players as I grew up, and I’ve always looked back and thought 'If only Glenn had continued'. Who knows how much my game could have changed?

Rio could have been a marauding libero had Hoddle stayed in charge

Is it true you never wanted to leave West Ham?
Olly Adkins, via email
I never asked to leave. I love the club, it’s still the first result I look out for after a United match. It’s where I grew up and I learned my trade. The two summers before I did leave I remember going to the chairman [Terence Brown] and asking: “Are we going to spend some money?” We had some good young players and I wanted the club to bring in some top players but it never materialised. There’s loads of what-ifs but when the club accepted the bid from Leeds I knew my time was up.

I’ve heard John Moncur was the biggest nutcase at Upton Park during your time there. Surely he wasn’t worse than Di Canio?
Ant Gibson, South Shields
Yeah he was! Monks was the funniest man I’ve ever met in football. If we’d been out on an all-dayer, we’d be walking to a place and he’d be jumping in bins – seriously, he’d be there with his feet hanging out the top! We were in TGI Fridays once and he took a run up at the bar and flew over it headfirst. He was on the floor around the barman’s ankles. Monks would stay out with the lads till late afternoon and then say: “I don’t know what I’m capable of after this moment in time” and just go home. So fair play, he knew his limits.


  • Premier League 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013
  • Champions League 2008
  • League Cup 2006, 2009, 2010
  • PFA Team of the Year 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013

You became the world’s most expensive defender in 2000 when Leeds paid £18m for you, yet you had a nightmare debut – 3-0 down to Leicester after 29 minutes! What was going through your mind then?
Gary Bass, Staines
“What on Earth have I done?!” is what I was thinking. Honestly. “Have I made the right decision here or what?!” I think West Ham won that day as well and went above us, so I was in a bad way. The manager [David O’Leary] played me, Woody and Radebe as a three-man defence, but when he changed that we went on to do some really good things. I had a great time at Leeds. Great team, great fans, great bunch of players. I’ve been so lucky to be at three clubs where I haven’t got a bad word to say about any of them.

That Leeds team came desperately close to glory in the Premier League and Champions League. What have the victorious Man United teams you’ve since played in had that that Leeds team lacked?  
Kerry Simmons, Leeds
Experience. There was no real experience in that team of winning other than David Batty. No one else had the mentality. No one else had even been close to winning the title except maybe Gary McAllister, but he wasn’t really playing in the end. So we were all new to it, and to be honest we didn’t really lead the club forward because of the lifestyle we had. We were all young lads, 19 to 25, all living the high life. And because we were young we were getting away with it to some extent, but when it came to the crunch time and we needed to win certain games against certain teams, we didn’t have the mentality. I think if that team had played together for two more years and added to it, they would have challenged Manchester United, but it never materialised.

£30m got Man United a man in a bad suit