Armed with elegance, pace and an astute ability to read the game, Rio Ferdinand is one of the finest defenders in world football.

The Peckham-born star burst onto the Premiership scene with West Ham United under the guidance of Harry Redknapp before being snapped up by Leeds United for £18million in November 2000.

The 2002 World Cup provided Rio with the stage to make the transformation from budding talent to accomplished defender, and his performances in Japan convinced Sir Alex to part with £30million.

Although initially hampered by injury, Rio

found his feet towards the end of his first season, as United came back from the dead to overtake Arsenal and win a 15th league title.

In September 2003 disaster struck. The defender missed a routine drugs test and, despite appealing, was banned from football for eight months in January 2004.

Since returning from suspension, Rio has consistently justified his tag as a world-class defender. He's also chipped in with valuable goals, perhaps most dramatically with an injury-time winner against Liverpool in January 2006.

Although an increasingly potent threat from


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