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When Harry met Ferdy


GUIDING LIGHT ... Harry Redknapp with his wonderkid and Frank Lampard


HARRY REDKNAPP slumped on the West Ham team coach one rain-lashed night, contemplating the five-hour drive back from Newcastle.

After seeing his Hammers slide to defeat, it is safe to say he was not in the best of moods.

Certainly not in the frame of mind for a fatherly chat on the phone.

But as they headed down the A1 back in the mid-90s, his mobile rang and he took the call which made the miseries of St James' Park seem a million miles away.

It was his dad, also Harry, who had just got home from seeing West Ham's rookies pull off an amazing comeback against Chelsea to lift the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup.

Yet it was not the fact the Hammers had won which really lifted his spirits.

It was the performance of one young man Harry junior did not even expect to be playing.

Redknapp admitted: "We had lost the first leg 4-2 at Upton Park and the return at Stamford Bridge was one of the few times I couldn't get to see the kids play.

"My dad had been to the game with Alan Hudson and, when he rang, the first thing he said was 'I've just seen the best kid I've ever seen play for your youth team.

"I went through the names and, when I couldn't guess who, he told me 'That young lad Rio Ferdinand'.

"Rio was still at school back then. In fact, I think the reason he had not played in the first leg was because we couldn't get him time off.

"I didn't even know he had played in the second leg.

"But I think Tony Carr, the youth manager, had put him in because we had nothing to lose and to see some of the younger players perform.

MASTER CLASS ... Rio watches Gazza take a Euro 96 training session with Teddy Sheringham

"Rio was only 15 and giving three years away to a lot of the others. But my dad was raving about him. Apparently he was running 60 or 70 yards with the ball at his feet, showing pace, skill, everything.

"I said when he was only 16 that he was the sort of player English football had been crying out for - someone who could bring the ball out of defence with style and flair.

"He was a midfielder when he came to us and we converted him into a central defender. You look at all the greats and they have moved back there.

"Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus...they began in midfield and looked so cultured when they went to the back.

"I've been saying for six or seven years that Rio would be world-class. That's why nothing he is doing now surprises me."

Ferdinand, now 23 and preparing for England's second-round clash against Denmark tomorrow, is currently one of the wows of the World Cup.

Yet, for a while, it looked as though the young Rio would opt for The Den ahead of Upton Park where he eventually made his big-time mark.

LARGING IT ... Rio has grown up

Redknapp revealed: "He never came to us as a kid with a big reputation. He had no England schoolboy honours or anything like that and only ourselves and Millwall were in for him.

"Dave Goodwin was the scout who first told me about him. The problem was his big mate, Tony McFarland, had gone to Millwall. Tony and Rio were both Peckham boys and Millwall were favourites to get him. But Frank Lampard put in a lot of work to bring him to West Ham and it paid off.

"He arrived as a 14-year-old with no guarantees of a contract. Yet after a couple of games, we offered him schoolboy terms and the rest is history."

Following a brief finishing spell at Bournemouth on loan, Ferdinand returned to Upton Park and was never out of the first team after that.

Leeds eventually tore him away from London in an £18million transfer in November 2000. Now Manchester United are hoping a bid of almost double that will take him to Old Trafford.

As long as no European giant steps in first.

OUT IN FRONT ... Ferdinand stood out, even as a kid

While Harry was desperately sad to see him leave East London, there were certain Hammers first-teamers who knew some training drills would never be as tough again.

Redknapp added: "We used to do these one-on-ones, where the attacker would face one defender as he went in on goal.

"Eyal Berkovic said to me once 'I've been here two years and it's a waste of time if you get Rio. I've never seen him beaten'.

"It was true. Even Paolo Di Canio would try all his tricks, but then make a move and Rio would nick the ball away.

"It made me laugh when people said Leeds were paying all that money for potential. Absolute rubbish, they paid it for a world-class player.

"David O'Leary knew it, I'd known it since Rio was at school and now it seems the rest of the world is realising it."

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