As Rio Ferdinand prepares to commence his 12th straight UEFA Champions League campaign with Manchester United FC – but first without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm – the defender has welcomed the tough hand the draw dealt the three-time winners.
United begin against Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Old Trafford on Tuesday, with FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad de Fútbol to come in Group A. Yet Ferdinand, who twice has fallen in the group stage with United as well as tasting victory in 2008, does not mind.
"It probably focuses you a bit more," the 34-year-old said. "The whole club and the whole management as well, because when it's a tough group the chance to rest people doesn't come about as much maybe. The Champions League these days is so competitive, and the teams are so good and the players are so good and the desire to get into the next stages of the tournament, because the rewards are so high."
Despite the potential for disruption after Sir Alex's retirement, United have made a decent start under David Moyes, with seven points and only two goals conceded in their opening four Premier League games. "Speaking as a defender, you don't want to concede goals and you don't want to concede chances," Ferdinand said. "This season we've started off in that vein. Maybe we're a little bit more secure in the way we play, while still trying to remain an attacking force as well. That's the sign of a good team – a team that can adapt.
"Obviously, [Moyes] is here now and he has implemented his ideas and told us what he wants to see from us, and it's up to us to take those ideas and put them out on the pitch," added the centre-back. "That's what we're trying to do and in the first few games we've had some good performances, individually and as as a team. It's about continuing that and building on that."
Ferdinand met Leverkusen in his first European away game with United in 2002, helping them to one of two victories against their semi-final nemesis from the previous season. Two other Bundesliga clubs, of course, made the final at Wembley four months ago, but Ferdinand said: "German sides have done well in recent years and so have the Spanish but I think it goes in cycles. Before that the Italian teams were doing well and the English teams have done well within the last ten years, so it goes in cycles and hopefully we can begin that cycle this season."