Despite his spectacular club career and the 81 caps he earned for his country, former England boss Glenn Hoddle reckons that Rio Ferdinand was never encouraged to unlock his full potential.
A prodigious talent, Rio Ferdinand had made his Premier League debut for West Ham United six months before his 18th birthday in 1996.
By the 1997/98 season, he was a regular in Harry Redknapp's side as the Hammers finished an impressive 8th in the league. That summer, only Michael Owen would be younger in the 22-man England squad Glenn Hoddle named for the World Cup in France.
"I took him for a bit of experience," Hoddle explains of Ferdinand's selection over 20 years on, "but at the same time, you can only take players who you think can do a job on the pitch.
"One of the most frustrating things about losing the England job when I lost it was to do with Rio. I had fantastic plans for Rio Ferdinand."
An academy product of West Ham, Ferdinand would leave the London club for Leeds United in 2000 becoming the world's most expensive defender in the process.
By the age of 23, he claimed that accolade again as Manchester United paid almost twice what Leeds had forked out to bring the English defender to Old Trafford.
After some challenging years for Alex Ferguson's side, Ferdinand would eventually become the defensive lynchpin in a side that won numerous Premier League titles and competed in three Champions League finals, winning one.
"In my last game in charge of England," Hoddle recalls at OTB's Cadbury FC Roadshow, bending the impression of Ferdinand's capabilities, "he played as a sweeper and was outstanding.
"I think I said to him at the time, get a hold of some old German tapes of Franz Beckenbauer and Lothar Matthäus. I wanted him to be able to go all the way up the pitch, to make a difference in midfield."
Be it at club level or with England, Ferdinand usually constituted one half of a central defensive duo. Were Hoddle to have had his way with him, however, he believes Ferdinand could have unlocked an even greater potential.
"Over his career," he suggests, "being in a back-four has held him back. Rio Ferdinand has never been able to show his real talent.
"If you had put him in the centre of a defensive trio, he would have been like Bobby Moore, absolutely sensational. With two defenders staying and a midfielder ready to drop in if needs be, that was my plan for England when we went to the Euros in 2000.
"To think of him playing in that role, it was so exciting. Because what Rio could do better than any centre-back was cope with pressure when he was on the ball.
"I was brought up in an era when defenders would panic when they got the ball. They would want to play it long and take no risks.
"With Rio Ferdinand, he had to be closed down. He just had that natural ability. It was so easy for him and he would have gotten better and better at it."
Unfortunately for Glenn Hoddle, he would be replaced after the World Cup in France by Kevin Keegan and the opportunity of testing out his plans for Ferdinand diminished.
"There were games in later years where I could see that he was desperate to go with the ball up the pitch but he couldn't," Hoddle reflects, "he couldn't leave his defensive partner one-on-one.
"He was always restricted that way. Under me, I would have let him go. But he never got that chance. I don't think Alex Ferguson ever played with three at the back."
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