Updated: Monday, 20th October 2014 @ 6:16pm

Sir Alex Ferguson hails Rio Ferdinand’s dressing room influence on Manchester United team

Sir Alex Ferguson hails Rio Ferdinand’s dressing room influence on Manchester United team

By Dean Wilkins

Sir Alex Ferguson is hailing the influence of Rio Ferdinand on the Manchester United dressing room.

Ferdinand, 33, has been criticised on numerous occasions is recent seasons after struggling with recurring injuries and aging performances.

However, this season the former United and England captain has been a strong defensive presence in the place of the injured Nemanja Vidic, forming a capable partnership with Jonny Evans.

"I keep thinking I signed Rio three or four years ago," said Ferguson ahead of tonight's Premier League encounter with Fulham at Old Trafford.

"I forget he's been here for almost 10 years now.

"He has taken on that role of the influential person in the dressing room. He is great with the players.

"If you can keep players long enough for their influence to spread - and in the modern game it's difficult to keep players for five or six years - they can take over from the older players as they disappear."

Should United retain the Premier League, it would be Ferdinand's sixth, which would leave him only two behind Alan Hansen, who frustrated Ferguson earlier this season when he claimed this was the Reds’ worst team he could remember.

Ferguson says his player still has many years to come at United.

"He is still young for a centre back," said the United boss.

"In normal terms you would expect a centre back with his athleticism to play well into their thirties anyway.

"We all know about his back problem, so we've had to manage that.

"He has adapted really well to the challenge of making sure he is fit and fresh to play in the games when we need him.

"How long he goes on for is all down to how he feels physically, other than that he has no issues at all."

United can capitalise on Ferdinand's experience as the business end of the season is in full-swing.

Vidic, Fletcher and Anderson have already been side-lined for the rest of the season, with Dimitar Berbatov set to play little part in the campaign’s end as his four-year career with United comes to a close.

Nani and Michael Owen will also miss tonight's encounter with Fulham.

But Ferguson insists his injury-prone striker, who has made only four appearances this season, still has a part to play in winning a record 20th league title.

"Michael is making good progress," said Ferguson.

"He came back into our training sessions a couple of weeks ago but then did some physical work with the sports science team and overdid it, which knocked him back a few days.

"But he's back in sync again and he should be joining us next week.

"If you think about needing a player to score an important goal, is there anyone better than Michael Owen?"