Speaker Spotlight: International Footballing Legend, Rio Ferdinand
Rio Ferdinand is one of the most recognisable players in football history, whether you are a fan of the sport or not. With his elegant style of defensive play and likeable personality, he has become a household name, on both the pitch and the screen. Critics have applauded him for his technical ability, natural talent and tackling skills - Rio’s playing style made him a strong, reliable defender and leader.
The former England footballer has since made a name for himself as a TV sports personality, appearing on panel shows, serious documentaries and as a TV pundit. With many years of professional experience, Rio is regularly booked as a successful sports speaker, who touches upon his personal trials to inspire his audiences. Displaying a natural confidence on stage, he explores his experience of losing his wife and the pressure of peak performance.
SUCCESS FROM AN EARLY AGE
From a young age, Rio’s footballing success was set in stone. At just 11 years old, youth coach David Goodwin stated, "I'm going to call you Pelé, son, I like the way you play”, in response to his outstanding football ability.
Though he was the attacking midfielder for his youth team in Eltham Town, scouts saw his potential to play as centre back, due to his defensive stability, ability to communicate with the team and confidence under pressure. After teams fought over signing the young player, he eventually trained with Charlton Athletic, Chelsea FC, Millwall FC and Queens Park Rangers. Rio’s passion for football was palpable, as he travelled across the country to view each stadium.
After settling with the East London team, West Ham United, Rio joined their youth system in 1992. Two years later, he signed joined a Youth Training Scheme alongside Frank Lampard, who he had a close friendship with during his early career. Taking the success in his stride, Rio joined the England youth-team squad when he was 16, competing in the UEFA European Championship, kickstarting his career as an international footballer.
CLUB CAREER HISTORY
West Ham United
Rio progressed through the youth-team ranks to earn a professional contract with West Ham United. Firmly positioned on their first-team squad, Rio progressed to their senior team in 1996 as a substitute for Tony Cottee.
In recognition of his influential contribution to the team, Rio received the Hammer of the Year award at the astonishingly young age of 19, during the 1997-98 season.
In November 2000, for the price of £18 million, Rio moved to Leeds United. At the time, it made him the world’s most expensive defender. As an integral part of the team, Rio helped them reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, scoring a header in the quarter-final.
In the season of August 2001, Rio became the club captain, in replacement of Lucas Radebe. Despite not breaking into the top three, Rio turned in an impressive second campaign, improving the club’s overall ability.
Between 2002 and 2014, Rio was a prominent figure at Manchester United. After joining the Premier League side on a five-year contract, he reaffirmed his claim to the title: the world’s most expensive defender and became the most expensive British footballer at the time. Rio played a major role in Manchester United’s Premier League success in his first season, collecting a winners medal in the 2006 domestic League Cup.
Earlier that season, Rio scored his first goal for Manchester United. Despite not scoring a goal for more than three years at Old Trafford, the game-winning goal was quickly followed by a headed goal against West Bromwich Albion. With a taste for scoring, Rio continued his scoring streak by scoring again, in the last few minutes of the club’s game against Liverpool FC, one of Manchester United’s most important goals to date.
In recognition of his consistently successful performances, Rio was named in the 2006-07 PFA Premiership Team of the Season, alongside his teammates Gary Neville and Cristiano Ronaldo.
During the next season, Rio scored his first goal against Aston Villa with a strong left-foot strike that deflected off Villa defender, Craig Gardner. Due to Rio’s skill as a player, he helped secure Manchester United’s 6-0 win against Newcastle United, a rare feat in the Premier League. Not content with simply playing, Rio went on to captain Manchester United to a Champions League victory against Chelsea FC.
Queen’s Park Rangers
Prior to retiring in 2015, Rio played a season with Queens Park Rangers. In response to his retirement announcement, in an interview with Jonatan Ross, Rio stated "I'm not fearful of retirement, I'm looking forward to it, I can see some good stuff hopefully happening ahead" - alluding to his future as a motivational speaker and TV personality.
PLAYING FOR ENGLAND
In 1997, at the age of 19, Rio became the youngest England defender at the time. Taking to the pitch, he played ten World Cup finals for England, achieving clean sheets in seven games from 2002 to 2006. In the early 2010s, he stepped down from international football, reportedly making room for young players to focus on their career. Over the course of his England playing career, Rio earned 81 caps and scored 3 goals, firmly positioning him as one of England's greatest international players.
FROM PITCH, TO SCREEN, TO STAGE
After retiring from professional football, Rio turned his attention to representing Nike sportswear and managing his own record label, White Chalk Music, with his school friend. On the same day that England opened the FIFA World Cup group match in 2006, Rio made his debut as a TV sports presenter. In contrast to his serious sporting persona, he presented Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups, where he played tricks on his teammates, including Wayne Rooney and David Beckham.
Over the course of his professional career and personal life, Rio has gained experience that he shares with audiences. From presenting as a guest speaker at corporate events to featuring as a motivational speaker at sporting events, Rio’s adaptable presenting style can be applied to any event.
In 2017, Rio released a documentary named Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, where he discussed the grief he experienced losing his wife to cancer. Transgressing to public speeches, he often discusses how he overcame grief, sharing his strategies with the hope of helping others deal with their own bereavement. Rio is passionate about supporting the future generation, whether that be through football or helping them avoid a life of crime. In his speeches, he touches upon his experience working with young people, playing at a professional level and dealing with bereavement.