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Time to get off Rio's back

England need Rio. Manchester United need Rio. I appreciate that English football is very parochial and club orientated, but this is World Cup year, and the country and Fabio Capello needs Rio Ferdinand.

• Zahavi: Injuries affecting Ferdinand

He is a world-class central defender, one of the key performers at Capello's disposal, and a fully functioning Rio will enhance England's chances of winning the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

So, let's get off Rio's back. Given our exclusive interview with Rio's friend and agent, Pini Zahavi, we now know the reasons behind the player's seemingly inexplicable lapses of form which have resulted in some crazy goals conceded by both club and country.

Of course Rio's detractors will point to Zahavi's reasons as 'excuses' and continue their assault on England's truly international class central defender. It is interesting that neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Capello have dwelled on the injury problems, no doubt fearing they would sound like excuses. Perhaps both of these esteemed managers will be grateful to Zahavi for defending the centre back.

Ferdinand was guilty of lapses of concentration at the embryonic stages of his career at West Ham, but once these were eradicated he became a fixture in the England team. He remains so, and this World Cup might very well be his last, although players of his ilk can carry on until they are 40, as did Italian legend Paolo Maldini.

Ferdinand's pace has always got him out of trouble, but the way he was brushed aside and outpaced by a three-quarters fit Fernando Torres illustrated that there was something wrong, and not just psychologically as some have suggested.

Of course Ferdinand is one of the current generation of Fat Cat footballers, whom some suspect have their minds on their fast cars, and even faster women. But Ferdinand is still hungry to be the world's best defender and the only way to prove it is in this summer's finals in South Africa. To achieve that he needs to be back at the top of his game - and to do that he needs to be fully clear of injuries.

As you grow older, the injures linger longer - an issue I have been stressing regarding Chelsea's chances of winning the title - and there are a few OAPs at Old Trafford too.

I can be as critical as the best of them, but only when my 'victims' deserve it. Now we know the fuller picture of Ferdinand's problems the media need to cut him some slack. It is time that the hysterical calls for Ferdinand to be axed by both club and country ceased.

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