Ferdinand pays tribute to Madiba
Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United
So inspiring does Ferdinand find the story of how Mandela fought apartheid, that he feels it should be taught in schools.
And, less than a week after John Terry was cleared of racially abusing his brother Anton and the furore that followed, Ferdinand believes Mandela offers a lesson for all.
"Mandela was selfless," he said.
"He gave up the majority of his life for everybody else.
"In today's society you see so much selfishness and me, me, me.
"But he gave up himself for a whole nation to make huge strides forward.
"He is someone any young kid now should be learning and writing about within the national curriculum.
"In today's world, there could be no better inspiration from one human being."
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has been fortunate enough to meet Mandela on "two or three occasions", most recently in 2006.
However, it was another occasion, after the Red Devils had won the Treble seven years earlier, that the Scot recalls most vividly.
"I remember when he spoke in Monaco after we won the Treble, honestly, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up," he said.
"The speech he made was unbelievable.
"It's a privilege for us to be here, to celebrate his birthday.
"The impact he has made in South Africa is huge.
"The thing that strikes me most of all is that there's no bitterness about him, despite what he endured and suffered.
"You have to be special to put that to one side, to try and get on with life and influence this country in a massive way."
United take on South African side AmaZulu in Durban tonight in the first of their preseason tour matches.