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Rio carnival over: Fergie

ALEX FERGUSON has told Rio Ferdinand he must accept his new status as merely being one of a group of high-class Manchester United defenders.

Now in his 10th season with the Red Devils, the man who cost a then club record £29.1million when he arrived from Leeds was previously viewed as a first-choice.

However, the arrival of Chris Smalling last year, followed by Phil Jones' capture from Blackburn this summer, meant Ferguson is spoiled for choice, considering skipper Nemanja Vidic and Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans were already at Old Trafford.

So, while Ferguson insists Ferdinand has an integral role to play, the Londoner has been warned he is no longer an instant selection.

"I explained to Rio the other day it is simply that we have young centre-halves coming through and I am very happy to have the defenders we have, and I hope I can keep them together for a long time," said Ferguson.

Ferdinand, 33 on Monday, was unusually singled out by Ferguson for criticism in the wake of what he felt was kamikaze defending against Manchester City nine days ago.

Given much-publicised injury problems that date back almost three years and the fact Ferdinand has been omitted from starting line-ups against Arsenal, Norwich and on Saturday at Everton this season, in addition to losing his place in Fabio Capello's England squad, it is understandable why so many people are writing Ferdinand off.

It seems Ferguson is not one of them, even though Ferdinand only returns for tonight's Champions League encounter with Otelul Galati because Vidic is suspended.

However, providing Ferdinand can adapt his game to take into account the fact he can no longer rely on pace to get himself out of trouble, Ferguson feels the player still has plenty to offer.

"Rio is almost 33 and has obviously lost the yard of pace he had five years ago," said Ferguson.

"But that doesn't mean he cannot tailor his game a different way.

"He cannot rely on his pace now. That is obvious.

"But he is still one of the best footballers in the country in terms of his use of the ball.

"He still has great presence. He can still tackle and can still head the ball."