Football: No defence? No title win, says Rio

This may have been the first season in over 50 years of top-flight English football when more than one club scored over 100 goals.

But for all the attacking verve displayed by champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool, Rio Ferdinand believes that it is defence that ultimately decides a title race.

"Look at Liverpool's season - they scored loads of goals but weren't strong defensively," he said of a Reds rearguard that shipped 50 goals in 38 outings to City's 37.

The 35-year-old was speaking from experience, having formed a miserly defensive partnership with Nemanja Vidic that helped Manchester United land five English Premier League crowns.

"The club was built on the foundation of a strong defence," said the former England international, who was in town this week for the SG Game On! Ultimate Selfie challenge jointly organised by SingTel and Samsung.

"It provided a platform for the attacking players to go out and win us games. If you can do that, invariably, you win the league."

But these are times of change at Old Trafford. Vidic has agreed to join Serie A giants Inter Milan on a free transfer, left-back Patrice Evra is reportedly on his way out while Ferdinand will leave after 12 trophy-laden years.

Their departures will leave a gaping hole in the United backline - one that the former West Ham United and Leeds United man is backing Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to fill.

Jones and Smalling came under criticism from former United captain Roy Keane earlier this week.

He said they had "gone backwards" in their development since joining from Blackburn Rovers and Fulham respectively.

But Ferdinand throws his weight behind the duo, saying "they've got the potential".

"I've seen them work day in, day out and they've got the capabilities," he said of Jones and Smalling who have been included in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the World Cup.

"It's just that they've never been asked to do it consistently because there's always been Vida (Vidic's nickname) or myself there. The positions are up for grabs now so they have to meet the challenge head-on."

Speaking of challenges, Ferdinand himself is embarking on a new one even as he ponders the next step in his playing career.

Having retired from international football a year ago with 81 caps, the former England captain will be on the plane to Brazil next month as a pundit for BBC's World Cup coverage.

"It's a path I can see myself going down when I retire," he said. "To talk about it would be the next best thing to playing."

And he is looking forward to the emergence of young stars at the month-long affair.

"I'd love to see Ross Barkley or Luke Shaw put in some good performances for England," he said.

"I also want to see how James Rodriguez (Colombia), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba (both France) perform for their countries."

Clearly, Ferdinand is looking forward to the World Cup. Just do not ask him to pick his best England XI as he does not want to offend his ex-England colleagues by omitting some of them.

"I don't even know the formation I'd play," he said after a long pause. "Joe Hart in goal, (Gary) Cahill and... Nah, I can't pick the team. It's too hard - I know too many of these players."

This article was published on May 17 in The Straits Times.

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