Rio Ferdinand: There’s no feeling like a Cup run
“Listen, who doesn’t want to go to Wembley, play in a Cup final and get your hands on a trophy? It’s the best feeling.”
Rio Ferdinand, after all, is a man who knows a thing or two about lifting silverware.
With six Premier League titles, two League Cups, a UEFA Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup to the twice-former most expensive British player’s name – not to mention six inclusions in the PFA Team of the Year – Ferdinand’s personal honours list reads like a roll-call of the game’s major honours.
And yet few will perhaps recall that it was whilst wearing Claret and Blue in 1996 – just weeks prior to his professional debut – that Ferdinand’s eye for a trophy first came to fruition.
I was made here, I was born and bred here, so I had great times here and some great relationships. There are still faces here that I knew when I was a kid
The then-17-year-old, alongside fellow future England captain Frank Lampard, starred for West Ham United as his Academy team reached the FA Youth Cup Final.
While the Hammers lost out over two legs on that occasion to a Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen-inspired Liverpool side, Ferdinand, it seemed, was destined for cup success.
“24 years ago - you’re making me feel old!” he laughed. “No, listen, I always look back at this place as where I was born as a footballer.
“I was made here, I was born and bred here, so I had great times here and some great relationships. There are still faces here that I knew when I was a kid, and that type of family environment will always stay with you.
“I had some great times here. All my memories are positive.”
While the West Ham United scenery might have changed since then – Ferdinand surveys the 60,000-strong capacity of London Stadium while recalling his time at the Club – his appreciation of his east London football upbringing remains evident.
At the heart of that lies a strong affiliation with the values instilled in him as a young Academy of Football scholar at Chadwell Heath; principles which went on, even after his record-breaking departure to Leeds United in 2000, to underpin the career of one of the Premier League era’s true greats.
You see the stadium and the facilities and the resources are much bigger than when I was playing here, but the fundamentals are the same
“The Club has grown, and you see the stadium and the facilities and the resources are much bigger than when I was playing here,” Ferdinand explained, “but the fundamentals are the same.
“The fans are the lifeblood of the Club, with the support and history that has gone before us, and hopefully that is respected and still bleeds through the Club’s veins. The fans and what’s gone on before here are huge parts of this Club, parts that make it special.”
A man well-versed in representing his sides on some of the biggest international stages and stadia of them all, Ferdinand recognises the potential platform the Claret and Blue Army are capable of providing their team with.
“West Ham fans have always known they can play a huge part and a huge role,” he smiles. “Boleyn Ground, when I was there, was massive - the ‘Chicken Run’ et cetera was great.
“It’s a different type of atmosphere that’s created here [at London Stadium], but still, they have to make this place a fortress. If the fans are given results and stimulated by those results, they can be poked into the right frame of mind and you’ll hear the noise that can come out of these seats.”
The one unfortunate omission from Ferdinand’s collection is that of an FA Cup winner’s medal, the defender gaining runners-up recognition in 2005 and 2007, after being forced to sit out Manchester United’s success in 2004 due to suspension.
Nevertheless, with West Ham enjoying newfound confidence following the appointment of David Moyes at the turn of the month, Ferdinand believes the famous competition – which sees the Hammers host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon – could prove an excellent springboard to a successful second half of the 2019/20 season.
“There’s huge scope to climb the [Premier League] table this year,” he observed. “A couple of wins and you can jump four or five or six places. That’s the incentive for these players: to get a little bit of momentum in this team.
“David Moyes has come in and brought much more of a clarity to the team, and the lads seem to be responding to it. I’ve spoken to Nobes, who’s obviously a friend of mine at West Ham, and immediately he’s said the players are really enjoying it.
“You just need someone you can relate to, and who you can believe in, and David Moyes at this moment seems to be that right man.
“A Cup run is great. It’s great for momentum and the feel-good factor around the place and it builds confidence. It’s the best feeling getting a trophy in your hands, and I’d love to see some of these West Ham players get it.”