In 1913, French novelist, Marcel Proust, coined the phrase ‘Never meet your heroes’ — And Rio Ferdinand found out exactly why when he first encountered Ian Wright.
Growing up an Arsenal supporter, the defender adored Wright, watching in awe as he flew past defenders before rendering goalkeepers helpless with his laser-like finishing.
Speaking on FIVE, Ferdinand reminisced: “You can’t start talking about nostalgic players and not mention Ian Wright; I don’t care. You can talk about any player you like, but Ian Wright, what he brought to estates, especially in London – if you weren’t an Arsenal fan, you were an Ian Wright fan. If you supported Arsenal around that era, Ian Wright was probably one of the main reasons you supported them.
“Even the way he scored goals and celebrated, my man was doing dances that you do in South London; he brought the Bogle out quick! Wiling it down at Highbury, like madness. That was Wrighty, and people saw a bit of themselves in him; that’s why people loved him, and that was the personality that was great, always smiling. He had a bit of a rough edge to him as well, but there was a character and a personality there. But there was also that great player.”
Thus, when Ferdinand finally got his opportunity to play against his hero, he couldn’t wait. But it didn’t go exactly how he’d hoped.
Rio Ferdinand hated Ian Wright
When the moment of truth came, the towering centre-back found himself infuriated with the striker’s aggressive style of play.
He raged: “No one did opposite movement like Wrighty. I remember, I played at Highbury as a young kid; I came on for 10 minutes at Highbury – I idolised Wrighty; I loved him. I came on at Highbury, playing against Arsenal, unbelievable history, and Wrighty is in front of me wearing the no.8 shirt.
“We had a corner, and I was staying back on the halfway line marking Wrighty, and as they were setting up, he was just looking at me, and I’m looking over him coz he’s only small, and he was looking at me trying to be a wind-up all screw-facing me and then he pushed me in my head, and I pushed his hands away and said ‘what are you doing?’ and he was just laughing, and I thought I hate this guy. I finished the game, and I remember I went back to my mates on the estate and saying, ‘I can’t stand Wrighty; he ain’t what we thought he was, man, the way he treated me like that’.
Luckily, despite their differences, they eventually reconciled, with Wright revealing that he was merely implementing veteran tactics.
Ferdinand said: “It wasn’t until a year or so later when I met him again with England, where he said, ‘Nah man, that’s ‘the game, that’s what we do! I’ve got to get under your skin!’, and I was like, I see, I’ve got it now. He was just a different guy.”
Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright ended up forming a solid friendship
“What was great about him, he looked after the young guys. When I was a young kid coming through with England, he looked after me, used to make me feel welcome, so I’ve always had a soft spot. Then he signed for West Ham when I was playing, and he used to drive past my mum’s house as he lived in Shirley or somewhere like that, so he’d come past where my mum lived and then pick me up. Bear in mind he was driving a Bentley at that time, navy blue I’ll never forget – a big Bentley coming through the area, people were surrounding the car – ‘yeah man, Wrighty has come to pick me up’, then he’d come up, and I’d get in the front seat and see everybody go ‘Rahh is that how Rio’s moving?!’ But Wrighty let me feel like that going to games.
“Some of the goals that Wrighty scored, you just look at them and just think this guy was doing playground tricks, lobbing goalkeepers, just taking the mick out of big goalkeepers at the time, like don’t stand out too far because I will dink you – don’t stand out of your 6-yard box.
“He was someone, who from an estate like the background I’m from; it was nice to see someone like that who I could relate to, playing in the Premier League, playing for England and doing what he did.”
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