Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand announced his retirement on Saturday, ending a 20-year professional career in which the ball-playing center back established himself as one of the top English players of his generation.

"This season, I really found out that it was time to hang the boots up and get back in the house and watch other people play the game," the 36-year-old Ferdinand said in announcing his decision on British broadcaster BT Sport.

Ferdinand was absent for the closing stages of his final season in football, with Queens Park Rangers, after his wife died on May 1 following a battle with cancer.

A tall, elegant defender with deceptive pace and a great reading of the game, Ferdinand became the most expensive English player when he joined United from Leeds for 29.1 million pounds in 2002. He started his professional career at West Ham in 1995.

Ferdinand made 454 appearances for United, where he won six Premier League titles, two League Cups, one Champions League and a Club World Cup. He forged one of Premier League's great center-back partnerships with Nemanja Vidic during his 12 years at Old Trafford.

Ferdinand broke the mold for English center backs with his touch, athleticism and ability to play the ball out from the back.

"He was a great player, without a doubt the best center half I ever played with," former United teammate Paul Scholes said Saturday. "I would say for a time as well, he was the best center half in the world. He was such a pleasure to play with and play in front of. To play in front of him, he made your job so easy."

Ferdinand was released by United last summer and signed for QPR, where he struggled to hold down a regular place in a team that ended up getting relegated from the Premier League.

Ferdinand had injury problems in the latter years of his career — particularly with his back — and had to follow a strict training regime to keep on playing.

The low point of his career at United came in 2003 when he was banned for eight months after being found guilty of missing a drugs test.