Sir Alex Ferguson’s final Man Utd team talk saw Rio Ferdinand getting destroyed

A LOOK BACK: Michael Carrick’s testimonial in 2017 allowed Sir Alex Ferguson to give his last-ever Manchester United team talk and it was Rio Ferdinand who took the stick

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The dressing room: the inner sanctum of every football club.

Words are said, opinions voiced and feelings laid bare, with countless tales from across the footballing world giving us an insight into what goes on behind literal closed doors. But the stories of Sir Alex Ferguson ‘s team talks are the stuff of legend – just ask David Beckham ‘s head. After the best part of 30 years making do with whispers, we were finally treated to a peek by watching the Scot’s last-ever pre-match chat with his Manchester United players in 2017, four years after his official retirement.

Ferguson’s final speech came ahead of Michael Carrick ‘s testimonial game in June of that year, a man central to his latter successes at Old Trafford, having replaced iconic captain Roy Keane at the heart of midfield. To celebrate Carrick’s career with the Red Devils, a number of club heroes returned to Old Trafford – including Rio Ferdinand.

The ex- England defender was lining up alongside Nemanja Vidic, as he had done for more than eight trophy-laden years, and while his focus was on stopping the All-Star opposition – which included Clarence Seedorf and John Terry – from getting the better of him, Ferdinand was ripped apart by his old boss before he’d even had the chance to warm up.

Awaiting the green light to get limbered up, Ferguson recalled his last official match – and 1,500th in total – as United manager, a wild 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion in which Ferdinand was brought on a substitute but couldn’t deny Romelu Lukaku scoring a hat-trick at the Hawthorns.

“You can’t play midfield,” Ferguson told his former centre-back, first making reference to the Red Devils’ 4-3 loss at Blackburn Rovers in 2005. “I played him once there and (Robbie) Savage ran all over the bloody top of him,” he continued before naming the full starting XI which included Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney.

Ferdinand was the butt of multiple jokes during Ferguson’s final Man Utd team talk

“Anyway, don’t lose it. Don’t bloody lose. My last game was a five-each draw – at 5-2, I thought we were gonna win by 10! Next thing, Rio’s going (motioning a hamstring injury)… Lukaku comes on and scores a hat-trick against him. Has anyone ever scored a hat-trick against you?”

“No,” Ferdinand responded before correcting himself, remembering the fatal 4-3 Champions League defeat to Real Madrid in 2003. “Actually, no. Ronaldo [Nazario] did, didn’t he?” Then Gary Neville, Ferguson’s captain for five years, dealt the killer blow: “Did you not see him at QPR?”

The dressing room erupted in laughter, with Ferdinand left to reflect on his ill-fated season with Queens Park Rangers – at the end of which the London club were relegated from the top flight and he retired. “I protected him at West Brom by the way!” Ferdinand replied, referencing a New Year’s Day trip in 2011 when Neville infamously realised that needed to hang up his boots. “All the time, I protected him,” as the duo laughed it off.

Ferguson made sure to end his team talk on a positive note, however, telling his players: “The best compliment I can give you, apart from a great team, you’ve turned out great guys. You’ve done really well, all of you. Well done, and it’s not easy. Being a footballer and then quitting.”

For all the joking, Ferdinand’s United career is nothing to be laughed at, having made 455 appearances, winning six Premier League titles and one Champions League. A trusted defensive lieutenant under Ferguson, his career – like many – took a turn upon his retirement in 2013 and David Moyes stepped into the dugout.

In the proceeding nine years, Ferdinand has admitted how the standards dropped as soon as Moyes took the weighty post, with everyone at Old Trafford unbeknownst to the fact the Red Devils would still be without a major trophy since Ferguson’s departure to this day.

Ferguson’s greatness helped Ferdinand win 14 trophies

“It wasn’t really until Sir Alex Ferguson left that we realised how good he was,” he told Clare Balding on BT Sport in November 2017. “You’re sitting there and thinking, ‘Oh, he’s so lucky’. He’d sometimes put teams out and you’d be sitting there after going, ‘What is he thinking?’ We’d all look at each other as he was naming the team going, ‘How’s he playing?’

“And then all of a sudden, that kid would go out and score a goal or something and we’d all go, ‘He’s so lucky, he’s just one of them guys who’s lucky’. But when he left, we were sitting there in the saunas or whatever, talking about it and going, ‘You know what? The guy was a genius’.”

With a mutual respect clear to see, it’s obvious that there wasn’t any malice behind Ferguson’s comments on his final bow at Old Trafford. Perhaps the intention was even motivational, as Ferdinand helped United to a 2-2 draw and Carrick fittingly capped the day by scoring a late equaliser with a trademark low drive.

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