Inside the Winner’s Circle with Rio Ferdinand

In Winner’s Circle, Duane Jones takes a look at the lives and careers of our most articulate and outspoken stars.

"I was standing on the balcony on the block of flats with my dad, looking down at a new car that I’d bought. I said to my dad, 'Do you like my car, dad?' And my dad said, 'Yeah, it’s a nice car. It’s worth more than the flat we’re living in!'"

Rio Ferdinand’s career took him from a council estate in Peckham, London, to the dizzying heights of captaining Manchester United to Champions League glory in 2008. One of the finest players of his generation, Ferdinand twice held the record as the world’s most expensive defender.

Rio also encountered controversy on occasions throughout his career, but has become far better known as a thoughtful and articulate professional, keen to offer his opinion on a variety of issues. As guest editor of the Observer Sport Monthly, Rio interviewed then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He also gained a reputation as an outspoken opponent of racism and homophobia within football.

Following his retirement, Rio’s remained in the public eye, and is due to make his debut in professional boxing later this year. In 2017, he discussed his experience of dealing with bereavement, having lost his wife to cancer in 2015. To those who’d followed Ferdinand’s career, it came as no surprise to hear him offering such candid reflections on the problems men have speaking out about their emotions, and his difficulties in assuming full responsibility for parenting his three young children.

In the first episode of our new series, Duane Jones interviews Rio at the peak of his career and takes a look at the highs and lows he’s encountered along the way. Rio explains how the support and motivation from people around him helped him navigate a path from humble origins to superstardom. He contrasts this with the pitfalls that cause so many young footballers to lose their way today. Opening up about his biggest regrets, Rio names United’s defeats to Barcelona in two Champions League finals as experiences that have stuck with him throughout his career. He also explains why he’ll never go on Big Brother!

Rio is typically forthright in his views on tackling the racism that remains a stain on modern football. In conversation with Duane, Rio explains, “I don’t think we’ve hit it hard enough yet, and I think there needs to be a stance of zero tolerance”. For Rio, punishing racist abuse from crowds with fines simply doesn’t cut it. He’s clear in his belief that imposing “bans, and having no fans in the stadium if this happens” are the immediate steps football needs to make in order to set an example.

Although the lives enjoyed by musicians and professional athletes seem completely removed from ours, Winner’s Circle provides an honest and revealing perspective on what these stars really think. Duane Jones looks at how people from ordinary backgrounds that we can relate to find themselves transported into a world of extraordinary fame and wealth. In no case is this more apparent than in the story of Rio Ferdinand.

The UK premiere of Winner’s Circle is at 10pm on Wednesday 17th January. New episodes air at 10pm each Wednesday.

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