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Rio Ferdinand admits his most ‘enjoyable’ football was at Leeds United

This Sunday sees Manchester United and Leeds United renew their historic rivalry as they meet in the Premier League for the first time since 2004.

The last time the two sides battled it out in a league fixture Rio Ferdinand’s name dominated the headlines.

In 2002, Ferdinand became the most expensive defender in world football as he moved from Elland Road to Old Trafford for a record £30 million.

It was a transfer that ensured he would suffer a lifetime of hate from the Leeds fans as he made the ultimate sin of joining their greatest rivals.

Rio went on to become a Man Utd legend as he won 14 trophies in 13 years, including six league titles and the Champions League in 2008.

While he enjoyed a trophy-laden career for the Red Devils, Leeds suffered a catastrophic demise down the divisions.

The Whites went from Champions League semi-finalists to League One in just six years, which resulted from financial problems and the sale of their star players.

One of those star players to depart was Ferdinand, a man who has rarely spoken about his time on West Yorkshire since leaving the club almost two decades ago.

However, as his two former sides prepare to be re-united in the Premier League this weekend, Rio has opened up and admitted that his most enjoyable days in football came at Elland Road.

“As much as there was a lot of talk about me going to Man United and it was emotional, for a lot of the fans it was difficult to accept,” he said.

“But I think in the long term it was proven that the reasons why I went were justified, but I probably had my most enjoyable football when I played at Leeds.

Leeds signed Ferdinand from West Ham for £18 million in November 2000.

“I loved it at West Ham but we didn’t win that much, I loved it at Man United, we won a lot but with that came a lot of pressure.

“So the enjoyment factor isn’t as free-spirited as it was when I was at Leeds where we won a fair amount in terms of games, got to some good heights, Champions League semi-final etcetera, and there wasn’t that added pressure or expectations with it.

“We were a young squad, all good lads, all socialised together as well and I just had some fantastic times, really enjoyed my football there, enjoyed my time, the people were great.

“Where I lived was fantastic so I’ve never had anything bad to say about Leeds. It’s always been somewhere that I’ve always appreciated as it was part of my journey.”

It’s unlikely Leeds fans will ever forgive Ferdinand for his move across the Pennines, however their former defender is a big fan of The Whites under Marcelo Bielsa.

The maverick Argentine has worked wonders in guiding the club back to the big time, playing a high intense, attacking brand of football that has gained them many admirers.

One of them is Rio who admits to being intrigued by Bielsa’s ‘scientific’ approach to the beautiful game.

“I think Leeds are a breath of fresh air for the league,” Ferdinand told BT Sport. “I think last season Sheffield United took that mantle, they were the team that came up and surprised a few, a new system, but this has gone to another extreme.

“The way that Leeds are set up, the way they play, they’re going to outrun most teams physically, but tactically they seem like a team that’s set up very, very well and you can see that there’s a lot of work that goes in on the training ground when you get to matchday because they do ask teams a lot of questions, whether it’s tactically or physically.

“I think that we saw on the first day of the season, against Liverpool, they could have won that game easily and they’re playing against the champions, so it tells you that they’re going to give a lot of teams a run for their money.

“I’ve heard a lot about Bielsa and people talk about how great he is. A lot of people use the word scientist, he’s got a scientific approach to the game. He’s been around a long time but when you haven’t seen it and you go and see it, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

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