Time to grow up, Anton, just like brother Rio did, or you're in big trouble
20 May 2009 11:07
Be more like Rio or less like Rio? It is the question that will never disappear for Anton Ferdinand.
So when a long ball hurtles through the Fratton Park floodlights on Monday night, does the Sunderland defender smash it into the stands or does he try to bring it down and play the ball out of danger? He does neither.
He misses it and Portsmouth go 2-1 up. It is the 'killer goal' according to manager Ricky Sbragia and the club are haunted by relegation with a final-day visit from Chelsea to come.
Anton's career has been blighted by similar misjudgments and fleeting lapses in concentration, both on and off the pitch.
'He has everything and will become a top class defender but he's still learning,' said Sbragia recently, as he discussed the 24-year-old, signed for £8million from West Ham.
'The biggest thing with Anton is concentration. He does switch off sometimes, he admits it. Sometimes he dawdles into position but Rio gets right there. I tell him to watch Rio.'
Few would argue that Anton's brother Rio, 30, is one of the world's top defenders.
But only since an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test - and, more specifically, in the last three glittering years at Manchester United - has he banished lingering doubts about his maturity.
Perhaps Anton will flourish in similar style through his late 20s, but perhaps yet another sibling likeness is the last thing he needs.
Glenn Roeder, who nurtured Anton through West Ham's academy and gave him his senior debut, said seven years ago that Anton's biggest obstacle would be his name.
'I still believe that,' says Roeder. 'It's so hard for any young sportsman to follow a brother who is so good. Anton will say it isn't but it is. Rio is not just good. He is a supremo.'
Emerging through the ranks at the same club and playing the same position, Anton did not help himself by copying his brother's hairdo and embracing his fondness for London's bright lights.
His lifestyle has been questioned. Given a weekend off, he told West Ham he was off to visit his sick grandmother on the Isle of Wight but flew to America to celebrate his22nd birthday.
'Anton needs to keep his head down and work hard,' says Roeder.
'He had a period at West Ham when he took his eye off the ball and I think he needs a manager who willbe tough to get the best out of him.
'He needs someone who will point out mistakes if he makes them and not let him get away with them. Don't let him slip into bad habits. He is a good lad, a good listener. I liked working with him.
'Overall, I think he has surprised a few people but I'd say there's more to come. He is still about potential. Centre half is an old man's position.'
Those with a bit of talent, however, love to show it off - especially if they exist in the shadow of their brother.
To the centre half with added poise and vision comes drooling praise, international recognition and earning power. Just ask Rio.
So when a ball looms out of the Portsmouth sky, why not try to bring it down with the sole of your boot? Well, one reason is relegation.