Rio Ferdinand has launched an impassioned defence of former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting that the forward should be starting for Manchester United even if he was only half-fit.
The Portuguese superstar missed most of the club's pre-season campaign to deal with family issues and wants to leave in search of Champions League football.
New United boss Erik ten Hag chose to start Ronaldo from the bench in Sunday's 2-1 loss to Brighton, with the 37-year-old eventually coming on as a second half substitute.
Ten Hag had previously revealed that Ronaldo's lack of match sharpness meant that he would not start against the Seagulls, but Ferdinand said on his Vibe With Five podcast that this was the wrong decision.
"For a player, the worst thing for you to do is sit on the bench and come on in a game," the former United defender said.
"You start him, tell him 'you're going to play 45 and do what you do'. He would've [had 45 minutes in him]. He's experienced enough to pace himself through a game. You've got to trust these guys."
Ferdinand doubled down on this sentiment and was also adamant that United simply can't afford to allow Ronaldo to leave this summer, adding: "Man United are never letting him go right now. Where are they going to find 24 goals?
"Don't have the conversation, you're not going anywhere.
"Man United can't let him go. Where are they finding 24 goals? [Darwin] Nunez has gone to Liverpool, [Erling] Haaland's gone to [Manchester] City.
"[Is it] even a question, start him, Jesus. A 50 per cent fit Ronaldo, you're putting your money on him before anyone [else] in that team.
"No chance [it benefited Ronaldo]. It's worked out worse for Man United, if he starts, you've got a better chance of getting a better performance out of Cristiano Ronaldo [longer term].
"[Ronaldo] is coming back fitter than anyone still. He's coming back into the building fitter than anyone, trust me. But due to the lateness of coming back to pre-season, he's behind in the physicality in terms of being with the team.
"Match fitness is different to fitness on your own...we all understand that. But, listen, he's one of the greatest players of all time. Put him on the pitch early doors when you're in the game."