Former England captain Rio Ferdinand has brought his near 20-year playing career to an end following his recent release from QPR.
Ferdinand made his senior debut as a 17-year-old in May 1996 with West Ham before going on to complete big money moves to Leeds and Manchester United, with whom he won six Premier League titles and the FA Cup and Champions League once.
He switched to QPR last year after failing to win a new deal at Old Trafford, but the central defender struggled to hold down a regular first-team place and was absent for the closing stages of the season after his wife Rebecca Ellison died following a battle with cancer on May 1.
The 36-year-old, who played 81 times for England, was quietly released along with several other players on Wednesday by the recently relegated Rangers and he has decided against finding another club.
In a statement, he said: “After 18 years as a professional footballer, I now feel it’s the right time for me to retire from the game that I love.
“As a 12-year-old boy, kicking around a football on the Friary Estate in Peckham, I never dreamt that I would play for my boyhood club West Ham, captain Leeds United, win the Champions League with Manchester United, or re-join my first manager Harry Redknapp at Queens Park Rangers.
“I will always regard the 81 times that I played for England, with immense pride. These are all treasured memories that will last a lifetime.
“I’d like to thank and pay tribute to my wife Rebecca and my family, including my mother and father, for their sacrifices, their encouragement and their advice throughout my career.
“And finally, I’d like to thank all the fans from all the clubs - for without them professional football would not exist. I will miss each and every one of you on my Saturday afternoons.”
Ferdinand made over 100 appearances for the Hammers in four years, while he was also given his England bow at the age of 19 while still at Upton Park.
He built his reputation as a lithe defender capable of starting attacks from the backline, which convinced Leeds to splash out a then British record £18million in November 2000 on the Londoner, who went on to captain the side in the 2001/02 season.
Manchester United then paid £29.1million for his services in July 2002, a world-record fee for a defender, and it was at Old Trafford where he became regarded as one of the finest centre-halves in the world.
Ferdinand, who formed an excellent partnership alongside Nemanja Vidic for many years at United, believes that would not have been possible without the help of Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Winning trophies over my 13 years at Manchester United allowed me to achieve everything that I desired in football. From a young child to today, that was all I cared about,” he said.
“None of that would have been possible, without the genius of one man, Sir Alex Ferguson. His greatest accomplishment in my eyes will always be how he developed us as men, not just as footballers. He will in my opinion, always be the greatest manager in British football history.”
There were low moments too. He was given an eight-month suspension at club and international level from January 2004 for missing a drugs test, meaning he missed the rest of the season and that year’s European Championship.
He did play in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups but an injury ruled out an appearance in South Africa in 2010, a few months after he was named captain of the side.
He announced his international retirement in May 2013 having endured an acrimonious previous 12 months that included being left out of the Euro 2012 squad, leading to rumours of an ill-tempered relationship with John Terry, who at the time was awaiting trial for racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother Rio.
After making over 300 appearances with the Red Devils, he linked up with Harry Redknapp again last summer, but it was not be a fitting farewell as QPR were relegated from the top-flight.
Saturday’s announcement prompted several former Manchester United and England team-mates to pay tribute.
Paul Scholes said: “He was a great player, without a doubt the best centre-half I ever played with.”
Michael Owen concurred, saying: “What a player he was, absolute Rolls Royce.”
Gary Neville also added his praise on Twitter, saying: “Congratulations to @rioferdy5 on his great career. Best I played with and best pairings I’ve seen with Vida/JT. Covered me very well too!”
Jonny Evans, who played alongside Ferdinand on many occasions at Old Trafford, told Press Association Sport: “He was the modern day centre-back that everyone looked to. Training every day and playing with him, he was someone I tried to replicate in my own game.
“I had the opportunity to play alongside Rio for a lot of years and he was someone who had the ability to make the game seem so easy.
“Anyone who’s played with him would tell you that.
“He transmitted that to the rest of the team and he was a great character in the dressing room.
“More than anything he was a winner and a leader. His trophy record reflects that”