Rio Ferdinand is the latest former player to be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame.
Ahead of his formal induction at an event in London this evening, Ferdinand shared some memories of his time growing up, his career and who he thinks will join him in the Hall of Fame.
On his roots…
I’m from Peckham, south London. I look back on my childhood with a smile. It was such an enjoyable time in my life. I was a care-free spirit.
"There were things happening in the area that gave you a choice. Am I going to go down that route or stay on the positive side of things? Luckily, I had a focus and that was football which helped me get out of the estate.
"My parents were always on my case too and gave me huge confidence to be whatever I wanted to be. They encouraged me to try anything and everything, like ballet and gymnastics. There’s no doubt these things contributed to my football-playing ability in terms of balance, poise, and agility."
On making it as a professional…
“If I could play even one minute, one second of professional football, I’d die a happy man.” That’s the way we used to think on the estate. We would do anything for just one minute.
"Becoming a pro footballer was what I dreamed about as a kid. I remember all those long journeys on trains and tubes, all the training, cleaning players’ boots and taking care of the kit. It’s a long, hard journey. You can see young players going through it all now and to be able to get over that hurdle and get onto the pitch was one of the best moments of my life.
"Going back to my estate and seeing my friends who were all desperate to know what it was like. To have that moment of speaking to my friends about it is one of my fondest memories."
On becoming a centre-back…
I wasn’t always a centre-back. I enjoyed getting forward and started out as a goal-scoring midfielder. I wanted the glitz and glamour and didn’t think about being an enforcer.
One day at West Ham, two of the centre-halves didn’t turn up so I played at the back in one game. The next week I was put there again which frustrated me. After four or five weeks this became a trend which I hated but I remember Paul Heffer [coach at West Ham] saying that centre-back was my best option for going pro. I recognised that I was slightly different to others, I could bring the ball out from the back and do things differently because of my midfield experience and the coaches at West Ham gave me the confidence to take risks.
On making his Premier League debut...
I remember Harry Redknapp saying that Frank Lampard and I were going to be in the squad. I remember warming up and hearing the fans sing my name which gave me a huge buzz. Frank Lampard Sr. called me back to the bench and my heart started to race.
It’s funny because everyone knew me as a ball playing centre-back but with my first touch I put it into Row-Z! It’s moments like that which bring back those memories of sitting and watching football with my mates on the estate dreaming of playing one day. I used to think I was Paul Ince or Gazza but suddenly I was the guy out there doing it.
On his time at Leeds United…
They gave me a lot of responsibility at the club and it proved to be a phenomenal experience.
It’s a massive club with a massive fan base and Elland Road is a great place to play, too. I became captain which was huge because I was so young and we were playing Champions League football so it was a wonderful experience.
I played some of my best football there and to this day some coaches think I was at my best at Leeds. I’ve maintained contact with a lot of them and there is still a WhatsApp group with the likes of Mark Viduka and Lee Bowyer.
On joining Manchester United…
"One of the biggest things on the day was meeting Sir Alex properly. I had met him before, in the car park at West Ham… I was fumbling all over the place. He’s got an aura.
"You hear about the stories of how ferocious he is in the changing room so there’s instant respect, instant fear. He’s great at making people a bit calmer because he understands his impact on people. One of his great traits is softening the room when it needs to be.
"I was coming for a massive fee; it was a world record fee at the time [for a defender]. The most nervous I’ve ever been for Manchester United was the first day of training because you want to prove to your peers that you’re good enough.
"You’ve got to remember the players they had. Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Sebastián Verón, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes, the Nevilles, Nicky Butt. You’re sitting there and going: 'Wow, the ridiculous amounts of silverware these guys have won – I haven’t won anything!'”
On his partnership with Nemanja Vidic…
"Nemanja came out of nowhere. The first few months he was there, he was way off it. I was asking myself, 'Who is this guy?' but then he became a monster. The best centre-back partner I ever had.
"We just knew each other's games and complimented each other perfectly. He prided himself on going up and winning that first duel every time. Normally in a partnership, there’s one whose head and shoulders above the other, but there was a real respect between us."
On his favourite Premier League title win…
"The last one with Sir Alex, because it was his last one as well and it was such a big moment.
"That title meant the most because a lot of people had doubted me going into that season. There was talk about me maybe going to Spurs and I had a lot of injuries around that time as well. Then we had that season and I played a lot of games. I got into the Premier League Team of the Season that year and we won the league.
"Everyone says, 'Oh, it was the worst team that Sir Alex Ferguson had that won the league.' Bad teams don’t win Premier Leagues. That team knew how to grind and fight, and could finish teams off."
On his legacy in the Premier League…
"The only thing I can think of, without patting myself on the back too much, would be the way I played my position which was probably something that set me apart. At that time, a centre-half who’s comfortable running out with the ball and taking the ball under pressure, wasn’t really what the position’s identity was about but that was my identity.
"You look at the players now, that’s a massive part of the way young centre-backs play because those are the demands put on players. I’d love to have played today!"
On his hardest opponent from the Premier League Hall of Fame…
"Dennis Bergkamp was one of my hardest opponents. I played against him when I was quite inexperienced and young. He caused me all sorts of problems. He was a nightmare!"
On the Premier League Hall of Fame player he would’ve loved to have played with…
"Patrick Vieira was like two players on the pitch. He was so big and gangly, you tried to play the ball through and he’d always intercept it. A great character with a bit of fire in there as well. You knew if you wanted a result in a big game, he’d turn up."
Rio on which current player is a surefire Premier League Hall-of-Famer…
"Kevin De Bruyne. He’s the quickest to 100 assists. For that reason alone, he deserves to be in there. As a player, what a wonderful footballer! Won multiple trophies but has been integral to all of those trophies as well."