RIO FERDINAND no longer has to watch Manchester United through his fingers fearing “crazy s***.”
The Red Devils legend has watched the demise of his former club in recent years in his role as a TV pundit.
But the six-time title winner now believes there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel under Erik ten Hag.
And Ferdinand said: “I’m going into this derby thinking, ‘We can give them a game’.
“You can see players gaining in confidence. For far too long we were going into games thinking, ‘Obviously, we are going to get beat here today but I don’t know how many’.
“Or we were going to the likes of Brentford and concede one and it could be three or four.
“When we have been feeling that as Man United fans, it is now nice going to games not feeling like that.
“I am now going to a game not looking through my fingers, expecting crazy s going on. I am going there now with a bit of, ‘I fancy us today. I fancy us to beat them and dominate the ball’, because you can see something tactically that has been consistently coming out every week now.
“We have got to play at our best and hope that they drop a little bit off it to win the game — but that is better than how I’ve gone into games in recent seasons.”
Ferdinand believes Ten Hag has done a lot more than just get a team up and running again.
He feels the situation was so bad at the end of last season, with confidence at rock bottom throughout the club, that the Dutchman had to rebuild individuals as people as well as footballers.
The former United defender added: “There were some really good quotes from him after the game the other day about the team spirit and how the ambience at the place was not right.
“He would have seen that in half the results and in games and in training, that the mentality at the place was not right.
“These were a bunch of players that were quite low, they were shot to pieces.
“He has had to build not only footballers but men back up again because they have been through a lot of negativity.
“Obviously, part of that is their own fault and the regime before.
“But he had to build a lot of human beings back up and that takes time.
“The fact he is now talking about qualifying for the Champions League so positively, and putting markers down, he can sense a confidence coming back into this team.
“There is a consistency of performance from the team and individuals, that wasn’t there before, that he now believes and fills him with the confidence to speak about.
“There isn’t that panic there was before or the complete capitulation that we’ve been seeing for a while. There is a much more calm edge around the team.
“All the signs are very positive. I just feel like there is a jigsaw puzzle that needs putting together at this football club and there are some good pieces being put in place, whether it be the manager, coaching staff, the tactical element he is trying to implement, or recruitment.”
One of the big pieces of the puzzle that needed putting back in place at United, according to Ferdinand, was the discipline.
He said: “When people have asked me about Man United and what I want to see, one of them definitely is to have discipline running through the veins of the club.
“Any team that is successful has an element of discipline. That is a real bedrock of any good football club, that discipline runs through, and the players are very aware of where they are standing in that, so that is pleasing to see. The fanbase will be looking at that and going, ‘I like that’.
“Players are being made accountable for their actions, whether it is during 90 minutes or off the pitch and at the training ground. I think that is a key part of any success.”
Fans always try to put together their best-combined team from both sides whenever a derby game approaches. In recent years few, if any, United players would get into City’s side.
But Ferdinand claims that is not the case any more — even if he believes Pep Guardiola’s side are still well ahead of United as it stands.
He said: “On form, Marcus Rashford would have to be in the team.
“Christian Eriksen would be in with a shout, Bruno Fernandes would be in with a shout. Casemiro or Rodri is a massive one in terms of form, the two best holding midfielders in the league.
“Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane would have an argument to get in the team as well, so you could put a good case forward.
“Definitely, the distance is a bit closer but it’s still not anywhere near where we want it to be. There is still work to be done.
“The fact you can have an argument over four or five players getting into the team, or to have a conversation about it at least, is a step in the right direction.
“But, let’s not get it twisted. City are way ahead of where Man United are.”
Way ahead — but no longer over the hill and far away.
Ferdinand, like many United fans, can see that bright new dawn on the horizon.
And he no longer has to look through his fingers and go searching for it.
RIO FERDINAND is an ambassador for BT Sport.