Rio taking nothing for granted as armband available

RIO FERDINAND is not thinking about the Manchester United captaincy at present – he is more concerned about getting his regular place back.

After three-and-a-half months out with the ankle injury he suffered in a freak collision with Emile Heskey on the first full day of training at the World Cup, Ferdinand finally made his United comeback last night.

His return for the Champions League draw with Rangers could not have come at a better time given Alex Ferguson’s announcement 24 hours earlier that Gary Neville would no longer wear the captain’s armband.

Nemanja Vidic’s omission at Old Trafford offered Ferguson the perfect chance to let Ferdinand resume his previously-held status as Neville’s stand-in.

It puts Ferdinand in pole position to lead the team in Sunday’s visit of Liverpool. The only problem is he is not sure of his place.

“The manager has a decision to make with the players,” said Ferdinand. “There were 10 changes for Rangers and it could be the same again on Sunday.

“Hopefully I will be picked and part of the team. I have got to get picked first.”

Ferdinand’s presence was a comfort to new-boy Chris Smalling, who was starting his first competitive game for United.

A £7million summer arrival from Fulham, Smalling is content to adopt a patient approach, knowing there are so many games looming, opportunities are bound to come.

“When I came here I knew I would be competing with four or five world class central defenders,” Smalling said.

“Including pre-season I have managed to play with all of them now.

“Hopefully I can link up with them all and build partnerships.

“This is going to be a busy period for us and I want to put my name in the frame.”

Smalling is certainly loving life at the moment.

Quite apart from his advancements at United, the former Maidstone defender has secured a place in Stuart Pearce’s England U-21 squad who will try to clinch a place at the European Championships by beating Romania next month.

“In terms of my confidence, it is quite high now,” Smalling said.

“I have been going away with the Under-21s and that has helped.

“We have a lot of games at the minute at international level so those plus any I can get with the club will be good.

“It is the only way I can improve,” he added.

“I work hard in training but it is games when the real pressure comes on. That is the thing that tests you.”


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