“Rio Ferdinand: #2Sides, My Autobiography”, with David Winner, Blink Publishing, Dorking, 2014.
Autobiographies are by their very nature an opportunity to put your side of the story. For footballers whose career has been under constant scrutiny and whose fortunes are reported upon weekly that opportunity is too good to resist. Journalists will construct a newsworthy narrative which uses the facts but will often distort them to ensure maximum impact. The irony then is that players write their book, (usually with a little help) and then invariably sell serialisation rights to newspapers who cherry pick the extracts they want to sensationalise and to fit their preferred narrative. This may be lucrative for the players but is self defeating; they lose control of the narrative again.
In Rio’s book there seems to be an attempt to do something different. Rio does not completely resist the opportunity to put his side of the story, (hence the title), but his book seems to try to go further. #2Sides does not follow a strict chronology but rather is organised as a series of short chapters looking at themes as well as incidents and episodes in his career, aspects of his character and life and reflections on key moments, controversies and relationships. For me this made the book more enjoyable than most footballers’ autobiographies and certainly more enjoyable than recent books by Sir Alex or Roy Keane. This approach will have made the book less lucrative but you get a sense that Rio wants to show a more rounded version of himself than most footballers achieve.
Then Rio goes and spoils it by agreeing a serialisation deal which leads to “chip-gate” for example.
Naturally Rio looks to portray himself as he sees himself and so as with all autobiographies we shouldn’t take things at face value. It is nevertheless refreshing to have an opportunity to consider aspects of his character beyond the football pitch. I found the most interesting chapter to be his reflection on his family background and his personal response to his mother’s new partner joining the household.
As fans we are of course usually more interested in what players do for our teams, and whilst Rio has not always been every United fans cup of tea he has done a lot for the club, (5 Premiership titles, a Champions League and a number of other trophy wins). Surely this outweighs any misgivings about time missed due to his forgetting to attend a drugs test?
Every year or so myself and a friend pick our best ever United XI from the United players we have seen playing for the club, (our era stretches back to 1974-75 season). I always start with the 1993-94 side and make changes from there but the majority still tend to come from that team. I always pick centre backs as a pair and for many years my default pair was Pallister and Bruce. In the last few years this selection has changed and I have chosen Ferdinand and Vidic. I can’t give Rio any greater praise than that.
There is only a small amount here regarding tactics and because of our particular focus that is inevitably a disappointment. It would have been good to read more about the tactical differences between Sir Alex and Moyes, or for that matter how Sir Alex changed tactically during Rio’s time at the club as coaches came and went. Nevertheless this is a better book than most footballer’s accounts of their careers and I found it enjoyable.