Anton Ferdinand talks Barca interest, missing out on England’s World Cup squad, John Terry, racism in football and makes bold Rio claim
Anton Ferdinand played over 350 professional games including notable spells for West Ham, Sunderland and QPR in the Premier League.
We spoke to the former defender to get his thoughts on the top four race, getting linked with Barca, racism in football and how the Nokia ringtone put him off his FA Cup final penalty.
Keep an eye on our social channels over the coming days to see who Anton picks in his Burnley v West Ham 5-A-Side team.
Top four predictions
I think the top four will stay as it is now, I don’t think West Ham will sneak back in there. They looked tired against Chelsea last time out and they’ve got some big players missing in Michail Antonio and Declan Rice, but take nothing away from what’s been a fantastic season for them.
I think it’ll be Man City, Man United, Leicester and Chelsea who make up the top four. Leicester have got a tough run in but they’ve picked up six massive points in their last two games, I can’t see them dropping out of it.
‘There was contact from Barcelona, an inquiry, but West Ham probably out-priced me’
As far as I’ve been made aware by West Ham, there was contact from Barcelona about my availability, but nothing materialised. If I’d have gone there, I’d probably still be playing now at 36. There was contact from Barcelona, an inquiry, but West Ham probably out-priced me. The money that they wanted for their English players at the time was a lot. I ended up going to Sunderland for £8m which was a lot of money at the time for a defender.
I remember watching the news on Sky Sports, I was always a fan of Spanish football growing up and I saw in a segment Guillem Balague was saying there was interest from Barcelona in signing me. That’s what made me go and ask the questions to West Ham, and that’s where they told me there had been contact, but that’s as far as it went.
Arsenal asked about me in the past as well; I think Arsene Wenger wanted to pay £4m for me but West Ham wanted more money. It was around the time he went and bought Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou instead. He signed those two instead of me.
‘If I’d have gone to the World Cup in 2006, my career would’ve been very different’
I missed out on the initial 30-man squad for the 2006 World Cup after a strong season at West Ham because I’d had a double hernia operation after the FA Cup final. I knew I wasn’t in the 30-man squad so that’s why I had the operation straight after the final; I’d been playing the last four months of the season with a double hernia.
The morning of the FA Cup final against Liverpool, I couldn’t just sit up and get out of bed, I had to roll out, it took me about half an hour so I had my operation the day after that game. Then someone in the 30-man squad got injured and Sven-Goran Eriksson rang me and asked if I wanted to come and meet up with the squad. I was absolutely gutted because I’d just had my operation, so it wasn’t meant to be.
In the last conversation I had with Eriksson, he apologised to me and said he should’ve put me in the 30-man squad from the start after the season I had. He said if I’d have made the 30, there’s no doubt I’d have made the 23 for the World Cup in Germany. It absolutely broke my heart. I came off the phone and cried my heart out. I had a bad summer with all the what-ifs that had happened. I 100% believe if I’d have gone to that World Cup in 2006, my career would’ve been very different.
‘That’s all I did in the documentary; I changed the narrative and spoke truth’
The documentary was supposed to come out at the end of the 2019-20 season just before European Championships in 2020 but we had to stop filming because of COVID. I’d actually been filming for something like nine months to a year before COVID got in the way so we were just sat on it for a few months until it came out at the end of November.
A lot of thought went into the making of the whole thing. When we were approached by the BBC, I was coming to the end of my career so I felt like I could actually speak about it. It was my time to speak, but I was very adamant that it had to be made my way and nobody else’s, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.
I knew it was going to be hard-hitting, and there’d be some difficult questions in there, but I didn’t want it to be an Anton Ferdinand versus John Terry documentary. If it would’ve been that, the message would’ve got lost. What needed to happen for me was that the footballing authorities needed to be held accountable for the role they played.
I felt it was imperative that we showcased how not to deal with a situation like mine if it happened again. I can’t fault the BBC at all, they were fantastic. Even around the legalities side of things, they spent so much money on legal fees and things like my terminology.
I had to use certain words throughout the documentary because he got found not guilty in the court of law. So when talking about John I had to use the word ‘incident’, I couldn’t say ‘abuse’ which was hard to do because my view was that he did do it. It was hard for me to try and change my vocabulary.
At first it was hard changing from interviewee to interviewer. Obviously I’m used to being interviewed as a footballer but all of a sudden I had to start asking the questions and being provoking. It was difficult, but I enjoyed it and it was made a lot easier because of the director and the producer I was working with. And the fact that I was speaking about my own personal experience made it easier for me.
There wasn’t actually much of a backlash after the documentary aired. In the build-up I got some racial abuse on my social media channels but I didn’t really see much of that after it. The narrative had changed after the documentary in terms of the public’s perception of me. I went from being Anton the liar, the grass, to Anton is strong.
It was weird if I’m honest. It was overwhelming, but it was weird. Although I can sit here today and understand why I didn’t speak up at the time, it also made me think that I could’ve controlled that narrative a lot more if I would’ve spoken out. That’s all I did in the documentary; I changed the narrative and spoke truth.
If I did speak out at the time, it makes me think that maybe my career would’ve been different and I wouldn’t have been blackballed the way that I was.
‘John Terry still hasn’t reached out to me’
I’ve still not had a response from John Terry since the documentary aired last year, but that’s up to him. I can only do what I can do and keep doing what I’m doing. Do I think it’s stupid? Absolutely.
Especially when you look at the route he wants to go down now in management. I felt like a hypocrite for so many years because I never dealt with my incident. Believe me, whenever there was something racial or to do with discrimination in football for all those years, my phone number was the first one people would call. All the news outlets would want five minutes with me but I never did it, because I’d have felt like a hypocrite. I just kept thinking that people would say ‘how’s he going to talk about someone else’s incident without addressing his own?’
And that’s going to be the issue that John Terry will have as and when he becomes a manager. The fact that I’ve asked him to be on my documentary and he hasn’t tried yet to come together and make a positive change; if the time comes when he is a manager and one of his players racially abuses somebody or gets racially abused, what is he going to do? What is he going to say? People will say ‘hang on a minute, Anton Ferdinand asked you to be in his documentary but you didn’t want to, and now you’re flying high and mighty on something to do with racism. How does that work?’
The way that football is at the moment, the likelihood is that it’s going to happen to him, and it’s a shame we’re in that sort of place but it’s likely it is something he’ll have to deal with as a manager at some stage. He’s taken the knee and he’s worn the t-shirts and that’s all good, I’m glad he’s done that and it is powerful to see him doing it.
But if you’re going to do that and you’re sincere about it and you want to create positive change, then do things properly. Don’t just take a knee, don’t just wear a t-shirt. Educate yourself on the matter properly and try and make a positive change.
On UEFA/FIFA’s stance on racism
Everyone speaks about racism and discrimination being number one at the top of their lists to eradicate from the game. You speak to every football governing body and that’s the number one thing they want to sort out because it’s so rife in football and society today.
If it is number one, and UEFA/FIFA can threaten players who were supposed to be joining the Super League with bans from international football and European competitions, then why can’t you issue the same threats for someone who racially abuses somebody? It’s because the Super League involves money being taken from them.
Why can’t they say ‘OK, if you’re caught racially abusing somebody, you’ll never play in a UEFA competition again, you’ll never play for your country again’. They threatened it when there was all this talk about a Super League. Why is it different when it comes to money over somebody’s feelings? Money doesn’t have any feelings; people do.
It’s dealt with more efficiently and more aggressively when it comes to money – it’s actually mind-blowing.
But it stems back to the people in these meetings, sat at these tables, the decision-makers. There’s no ethnic minorities there, so how are they ever going to understand what it feels like for us, when there’s no one there that looks like us who can have a voice for us? Until that’s addressed, things will never change.
‘I’ve reached out to Glen Kamara’
I spoke to Glen Kamara over text message after the Rangers game against Slavia Prague. I understand and know the feeling, but I also take it upon myself now to be the voice of players. I know how hard it can be as a player to speak out, and I know how scary it can be, but I can be their voice. I feel like it’s something I can do off the back of the documentary.
I’ll always have my own opinion on what’s happened and I’ll call it for what it is. That’s what more footballing bodies need to do, and pundits. I’ve called people out recently because what they’ve said in response, for me, is a disgrace and it’s something I only know too well.
People have said we can’t jump to conclusions until UEFA have done their investigation; we can’t sit here and say that it definitely happened. My response to that is ‘how can you possibly say that?’ Call it for what it is. Base your opinion on what you see and what you hear. Don’t base your opinion on UEFA because the history of UEFA dealing with these situations isn’t great, so don’t wait for them.
For instance, in that game, I saw a Slavia Prague player put his hand over his mouth which tells me he didn’t want people to see what he was saying. Then there was the reaction of Glen Kamara and the players around him, and then you hear him say ‘he called me a monkey’.
Then you look at what happened after the match where Steven Gerrard who, for me, gave the best interview as a manager after an incident like this that I’ve ever seen. Just the words ‘I trust Glen Kamara with my life. I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with my player on this’.
When you put all of those things together, you can’t look at it and say it never happened. I base my opinion on what I saw and what I heard. People that don’t do that are part of the problem. I know myself as someone who has been a victim, it makes the victim seem not believable, and that’s a horrible feeling to have.
Missing my penalty in the FA Cup final v Liverpool
I see that FA Cup final in 2006 so often – in my mind, if I’m honest. It’s always there. Stevie G on the volley from 35-40 yards, I’m watching the ball fly past me, I turn around and see it hit the back of the net and I’m slumping to the floor, wanting to be sick.
It still kills me to this day, because although West Ham talk of me as a legend – probably because I’m a youth product of theirs who established himself in the first team – but if we went and won that FA Cup I’d feel a lot more comfortable around that term, because I’d have won something for the club.
Pepe Reina saved my penalty which meant Liverpool had won the shootout, and I honestly can’t remember anything from the immediate aftermath of my penalty. I don’t know who came over to me first, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up to be honest. It was a surreal moment. It’s just a blur.
The only thing I remember about stepping up to take the penalty is that for 120 minutes we’d had about 90,000 fans directing noise towards the pitch, but when I stepped up and put the ball down, there was pure silence. I remember hearing the old Nokia ringtone. I could just hear that. I swear I just heard that ringtone, because the whole place was silent. It threw me completely. I’d lost all my trail of thought because before that I was fully focused. That’s what did me, it’s my main memory of the day.
I was confident while I was walking to the spot – I call it a great save from Pepe Reina – but I felt calm and confident. Before the shootout we were in the huddle and the gaffer was asking who wanted to take the penalties. We’d sorted out the first four takers but no one stepped up for the fifth, so I put my hand up, took it upon myself and said I’d take it, and that was it. It just wasn’t meant to be.
That result stuck with me for the whole summer. It was horrendous in the dressing room after the game. Lionel Scaloni – our right-back – should’ve kicked the ball out but he chose to keep it in play which ultimately led to Gerrard’s equaliser. I wasn’t best pleased with him to be totally honest, but he was distraught. There were a lot of tears in that dressing room.
Within a couple of days I’d lost an FA Cup final and been told by Sven-Goran Eriksson that I was going to make the 30-man England squad for the World Cup but for my hernia operation. When you combine those two things together, my summer was an absolute shambles.
‘There’s no shadow of a doubt that Rio Ferdinand was the best defender in the Premier League’
What you see is what you get with Rio. He laughs at that ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ clip, to be honest with you. He embraces any type of banter that comes his way. It’s part and parcel of who he is. He’s in the public eye, so you’ve got to open yourself up to being able to deal with the banter. He gives as good as he gets.
Anyone who knows Rio personally knows what you see on TV is just the way he is. He likes to have a laugh and a joke, but when he’s working he’s serious. He’ll always be one of the first guys in the dressing room to have a laugh but the minute it’s serious his game face comes on.
Rio should be inducted in the Hall of Fame in my opinion. He broke the record twice as the most expensive player in England, and won numerous titles with Manchester United. He should be in that list of six names, but the only problem is that he’s a defender, and people always tend to go for attackers in these things. But for what Rio has done in the game, when you look at the list of 23 names, and also consider that he broke the transfer record twice, it just makes sense that he should be inducted in that Hall of Fame.
People can call me biased if they want – that’s no problem – but there’s no shadow of a doubt that Rio Ferdinand was the best defender in the Premier League. No one was better than him, even to this day there’s still no one better than him as a defender. People talk about Rio not being aggressive – he was aggressive, in his own way. You’ve only got to look at interviews with strikers over the years; the two players strikers say they didn’t like playing against during that era were Rio and Ledley King, so that just shows you how good he was.
When you look at how United played as well, a lot of their attacks started with him, and not many defenders could do what he did.
Him and Nemanja Vidic made each other better players, but when you look at whoever else he played alongside, whether it was Jonny Evans or Wes Brown, he made whoever it was a better player. The defensive line always looked better and stronger when it was Rio and somebody, rather than when it was Vidic and somebody. And that’s no disrespect to Vidic – he was unbelievable and one of the best to have ever done it in the Premier League.
But for me, there isn’t a better all-round defender than Rio Ferdinand.
The way that he is as a person, I don’t think he’ll go into management now. I know he’d want to go in and be the best, and he understands that because he’s only ever learned from the best in Sir Alex Ferguson. And if you want to be the best, you’ve got to be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night, and I don’t think he’d want to do that anymore because he’s so much more family orientated than he was when he was playing. He’s happy doing the punditry because he’s talking about something he’s loved all of his life and he knows inside-out, and he’s very good at it.
I could see him potentially becoming a director of football somewhere. He’s definitely got the skillset and the know-how to do that sort of job.
‘Why would Brendan Rodgers go to Tottenham?’
I think Brendan Rodgers is so underrated, it’s unreal. They’ve sold some big players in the last few years. They lost Harry Maguire and they don’t miss him at all, it’s crazy. What he’s doing at Leicester is unbelievable. He’s improved every player in that squad. Wesley Fofana, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho are all players who he has taken to another level. He’s just a great coach and a manager that everybody loves.
Would I be worried if I was a Leicester fan about him going to Tottenham? I don’t see him going there. Why is he going to go to Tottenham? It’s different if he’s being touted by a top four team. Why is he going to leave a top four team to manage Tottenham? Look at the squads: is Tottenham’s better than Leicester’s? I can’t see it. They’ve got a couple of better individuals in Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, but that’s about it.
Leicester have just moved into a fantastic new training complex, the club looks like it’s being run fantastically well… why would you want to leave all of that to go to Tottenham?