Exclusive - Ferdinand praises 'brilliant' Bilic

In an exclusive interview for Saturday's Official Programme, Rio Ferdinand hails West Ham United manager and former teammate Slaven Bilic
When Rio Ferdinand made his West Ham United debut as a substitute in a 1-1 Premier League draw with Sheffield Wednesday at the Boleyn Ground on 5 May 1996, he jogged on to take his place alongside a certain Slaven Bilic.

The Croatian defender was coming to the end of his first half-season in east London, having helped guide Harry Redknapp’s cosmopolitan Hammers to a comfortable tenth-place finish.

For the young Ferdinand, then just 17, playing and training with a man who had won the UEFA Cup and would go on to European Championship and World Cup glory was a fantastic footballing education.

“Slaven was brilliant for me as a young player,” Ferdinand revealed in an exclusive interview with Saturday’s 100-page Official Programme for the visit of AFC Bournemouth. “I have always had a good relationship with him and we have stayed in contact regularly since the days that we played together, all through his time as Croatia manager and with clubs in Russia and Turkey.

“As a player, had he not had the hip injury I believe he could have gone to play for one of Europe’s top clubs – he was that good. As a teammate, he was really nice too, helping me and the other young players to develop.”

In a revealing interview, Ferdinand reveals that his loan spell with Bournemouth played a big role in his development into a West Ham and England great, while also discussing the Cherries’ rise to the Barclays Premier League and the development of 16-year-old Hammers starlet Reece Oxford.

So, as a player, Ferdinand found Bilic to be a leader and an inspiration, so presumably the former England captain feels the Croatian has similar traits as a manager?

“As West Ham manager, I think he has been really shrewd in the transfer market and has strengthened the squad,” the 36-year-old continued. “Dimitri Payet is a fantastic signing. He was the leading assist maker in France last season and has already looked good in the Premier League.

“I spoke to Slaven after the win at Arsenal and he is very level-headed. He wasn’t getting carried away and he knows how tough it is going to be in the Premier League, but he has already put his stamp on the squad with his signings and I am looking forward to seeing how it goes.”