Manchester United boss David Moyes insists defender Rio Ferdinand has played a crucial role in his first season at Old Trafford despite a lack of recent playing time.
Ferdinand, 35, started each of United’s first seven Premier League games of the season but has just one league appearance to his name since September -- the 2-2 draw at Cardiff on Nov. 24.
Moyes has favoured other players at centre-back and Ferdinand is expected to leave Old Trafford this summer after 12 years at the club.
But thanks to injuries to Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, the former England captain is in contention for a return to the starting XI against Fulham this Sunday and Moyes stressed that although he has not been playing, Ferdinand has remained an important presence in the dressing room.
“Rio has made a great contribution, especially in the first half of the season,” Moyes said. “I played him in nearly all the opening eight to 10 games.
“He was a big part in helping me to settle. He has competition at centre-half but he is very much valued and looked at as one of the senior players.”
Ferdinand will be battling long-time defensive partner Nemanja Vidic -- available after a three-match suspension -- and Chris Smalling for a centre-back berth against Fulham, who are managed by ex-United coach Rene Meulensteen.
“Rio is back training,” Moyes said. “He’s back and we will continue to use Rio at the right times and the right moments.”
Ferdinand, who has been out with a knee injury since United’s FA Cup defeat to Swansea on Jan. 5, has been tipped to transfer to MLS at the end of the season, with LA Galaxy reportedly among his potential suitors.