Smith backs under-fire Rio
By Adam Marshall
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Alan Smith has backed Rio Ferdinand after the defender gestured to fans.
Manchester United striker Alan Smith has backed Rio Ferdinand after the defender was accused of aiming a two-fingered gesture at a group of supporters in Asia.
The former West Ham and Leeds United centre back argued with team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy after United's 2-1 defeat to Kashima Antlers and has been jeered during the pre-season campaign by a section of the club's support.
Many fans are angry that Ferdinand is stalling on signing a lucrative new contract after the Old Trafford outfit stood by the England international throughout his lengthy ban for failing to take a drug test.
It has been reported that the cultured stopper gave a V-sign in response to crude chants from a section of supporters in Japan.
Smith, who also played with Ferdinand at Leeds, insists there are no problems with the 26-year-old.
"Rio's fine," Smith told Sky Sports News. "Rio's a player who will make his own mind up when he wants to sign his contract.
"That's got nowt to do with me or any of the rest of the players.
"That's up to Rio.
"He's said he wants to stay to us. I'm sure he'll do that so he'll be a Manchester United player, I'm sure."
Smith believes team spirit is a key factor if United are to compete with big-spending Chelsea next term.
"A club of Man United's stature should be challenging every year," he added. "We were disappointed to be so far off Chelsea last year.
"This year, we're going to make sure we get closer.
"They've got good players, no doubt about it, so we need to be together collectively and make sure we keep a good team spirit. It's vital we go better than we did last year."
Meanwhile, Louis Saha was refusing to be downcast after another goalless game for the ex-Fulham striker and an embarrassing loss.
"Even though we lost today, we can see nice things and nice play," he said afterwards.
"We're still in the process of building the fitness and I think we're looking confident."