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May 12, 2014

Adios, Rio, as rebuild begins

Rio Ferdinand’s record in a Manchester United shirt ranks with that of the finest centre-backs in the club’s history. He has lodged 12 years at the club and collected a wheelbarrow full of trophies during that period. On Sunday evening, shortly after United had arrived home from their final league game of the season, Rio was informed that his contract would not be renewed.

There is the sense that he had perhaps outstayed his welcome as his career drew to a close. Comments on his personal blog that he had not been able to say goodbye in the fashion he had hoped point to a divide between him and the club. The question shall linger as to why he is being cut adrift now, particularly considering Nemanja Vidic has also departed this summer.

Regrettably, the answer could be both obvious and infuriating. Whilst Rio certainly has expertise to pass on to the younger members of the squad, his wages are not the cheapest. With United having recently poured an ocean of money into Wayne Rooney’s pockets by signing him up to a new deal, and on the cusp of making 30 million pounds' worth of Luke Shaw the best-paid teenager since Britney Spears, Rio’s release could well be about balancing the books.

Ferdinand was pointedly left out of the squad for the final home game of the season -- a 3-1 win over Hull that saw Ryan Giggs and Vidic trotted out -- and denied a proper send-off from the fans. Some players have a host of chants, some don't. Rio is in the second category. Nonetheless, all appreciate the effort he has put in for the club.

The just-completed season was a shambles and there is the perception that Rio could have tried a bit harder and perhaps been a little less divisive in the changing room. This is hard to prove of course, but one assumes that if he saw eye-to-eye with all of those in the director’s box, he wouldn't be leaving now.

Reports suggest that he was not offered a new contract; he is on the record as saying he would have liked to stay. The timing of this is certainly interesting. As soon as the final ball had been kicked he was informed he was no longer part of the future: United have moved quicker with Ferdinand than others, such as Evra and Giggs.

Several things could have ended better this past 12 months at Old Trafford, but when it turns out like this it is often a sign that they really needed to end. Rio’s association with United probably falls into this bracket.

The 2007-08 season was just about as close to perfect as any I can remember from a defender. At almost no point during that campaign did Rio seem flustered or desperate in the tackle. His performances against Barcelona and Chelsea that year defined the campaign and provided the bedrock upon which the Champions League and Premier League title could be won.

Alas, there will be those who remember how the club stuck by him staunchly during his ludicrous ban for a missed drugs test in 2004 only to have him hold the club to ransom during subsequent contract negotiations. Nonetheless, United's 2008 European Cup triumph and the success of the last decade were built on the Rio and Vidic axis. That defence is no longer there for United to build on anymore; Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans have nowhere to hide now, they must stand up.

He might not be delighted about being shown the door now, but this is the right time to go. Rio has been a great servant of the club but his decline has more than set in. It is time to give the younger generation a chance. After all, that is what Manchester United is all about.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

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