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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Rio Ferdinand: The silver lining
Rio Ferdinand's reputation is on the rise

The carnival is over for England's World Cup team, but when the tears have dried, consolation will be found in the flowering of Rio Ferdinand.
It was not England's tournament after all, but if one player can walk tall when the team touches down on home soil, it will be Rio Ferdinand.

And that's not just a reflection of the central defender's 6ft 2ins frame. Time and again over the past three weeks, Ferdinand has been marked out as England's greatest asset.

Fabio Cannavaro
"Ferdinand has surpassed Fabio Cannavaro"
"He's developed from being a fantastically creative defender into a disciplined defender at Leeds United," said the Daily Telegraph's football writer Henry Winter.

"Now we are seeing the culmination of the two sides. He's now surpassed Nesta and Cannavaro - the great Italian centre-halves."

So who has been the key figure in the emergence of Rio Ferdinand as a world-class performer?

The former West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, who nurtured his talent at the club that once relished Bobby Moore?

Mother's influence

Or David O'Leary, the Leeds United boss who backed his faith in Ferdinand by agreeing an £18m fee for his services?

The young Rio Ferdinand
Addicted to football from an early age
Doubtless, they've played an important role. But without the guiding hand of Rio's mother, Janice, it could all have been so different.

His name was chosen by his father, not after the samba city of Brazil, now celebrating victory, but after the Rio Grande, far from the Friary council estate in Peckham, south London, where the young football star was raised.

But his father walked out when Rio was 12, leaving his mother to bring up two boys and two girls.

Peckham may have provided many laughs as the locale of Del Boy and Rodney, but it was also the scene of Damilola Taylor's tragic death.

Bit of a lad

Rio Ferdinand's childhood role models were Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona, and one of his teachers at Camelot primary school, Denise Winston, says Rio himself was "a bit of a Jack the Lad".

But his mother was always at the end of the phone: "If he thought I was going to ring her, he soon came into line."

Ferdinand first played on this tennis court in Peckham
And Joye Manyan, then Camelot's headmistress, says Janice Ferdinand "knew what she wanted for her children and didn't let anything get in her way".

At six years old, Rio Ferdinand showed a talent for maths and later excelled as Bugsy Malone in a school musical.

But like his cousin, the former England striker, Les Ferdinand, it was in the playground, playing football, that he was most impressive.

At 11, Rio was under the wing of Queen's Park Rangers in west London.

Tragedy struck

But in that first year at his secondary school, Blackheath Bluecoat, the murder of one of his fellow pupils, the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, provided a grim reminder of how dreams could be snuffed out in a second.

Ferdinand celebrates after scoring against Denmark
Hero: After scoring against Denmark
"He was a quiet, nice boy, into art and music," said Rio, of Stephen. "He had a purpose and wanted to do something in life. For him to be taken away that way seemed so unreal."

Ferdinand left school at 16 for an apprenticeship at West Ham, and by the time he arrived at Elland Road in Leeds, had already bought his mother a £250,000 house. Now he could afford a fleet of Del Boy's Reliant Robins.

There is the odd blemish on his CV. He was dropped from a World Cup qualifier after being convicted of drink-driving, and his antics two years ago on a holiday in Cyprus, although routine fare for the tabloids, would not have gained his mother's approval.

'Lucky' man

A series of celebrity females have been linked with Ferdinand, including ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton and TV presenter Kirsty Gallagher.

On the pitch, he confesses that he had a brief spell of complacency. "I began to think I was invincible," he said.

Rio Ferdinand after England lost to Brazil
Gutted: After losing to Brazil
Now, at his home in Wetherby, North Yorkshire, 23-year-old Ferdinand has a live-in girlfriend, Rebecca Ellison, and his feet are firmly on the ground, except when he becomes airborne to score against Denmark.

"I never forget how lucky I am," he said. He frequently returns to Peckham, not only on public relations exercises to try to improve its image after the Damilola Taylor tragedy, but also to re-visit his youth centre playground.

Southwark Council has recognised his contribution by granting him the Freedom of the Borough and one of his Peckham friends, Gavin Rose, says Rio "has never forgotten where he came from".

Like everyone at Leeds United, one of the backroom staff, Debbie Harding, has no doubts where the credit lies: "He has such good manners; his mother's brought him up beautifully."

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