Petty debate overlooks the real shame of Ferdinand’s England exile

Rio Ferdinand’s decision to withdraw from the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers has caused much debate up and down the country.

The Manchester United defender was in line to add to his previous haul of 81 international caps, after he was last week selected for the double-header against San Marino and Montenegro. With such a notable lack of a mainstay pairing in the heart of the back four, it is more than likely he would have started both fixtures.

Ferdinand, you will no doubt be aware, has not featured for his country in almost two years. The last of his appearances came in June 2011, when he played the full ninety minutes as Fabio Capello’s side came from 2-0 down to rescue a Euro 2012 qualifying point against Switzerland at Wembley. Since the departure of the Italian, though, the 34-year-old has been overlooked by his successor, Roy Hodgson.

Some argue that this is down to the United man’s fitness problems over the past couple of years. But since that match against the Swiss, he has appeared 65 times for his club in all competitions. Hodgson has insisted in the past that he has omitted the former West Ham United youngster purely for ‘football reasons’, but those who have witnessed him in action during his prolonged national absence will find this hard to accept.

The general consensus is that he had been excluded due to allegations made against John Terry, who was accused of racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother Anton, the Queens Park Rangers defender. Had Hodgson called both into his squad leading up to and including Euro 2012, the potential for disruption would have been clear. That Ashley Cole, another key man for the national side, gave evidence backing his Chelsea pal, merely added to the mix.

Terry has since retired from international football, and although Cole is very much still part of the picture, Hodgson explained last week that he didn’t feel this would be an issue when revealing he had recalled Ferdinand. But even that is one less worry for the England coach, after the Old Trafford star announced his withdrawal from the squad on Monday.

An intricate training plan at club level, as briefly detailed by Sir Alex Ferguson at the weekend, is given as the reason for this decision. He can play two games in a week, sure, yet this is down to the very fact that he follows such a strict regime. Were he to spend the next nine days on international duty, this would have interrupted this programme, leaving United with a potential problem upon his return to Manchester.

Some pundits and supporters refuse to believe this. Ferdinand’s relationship with Hodgson is thought to have been seriously damaged over the Terry affair, and it was only last October that he also had to suffer the embarrassment of finding out he was not selected for the squad when it was discovered that Hodgson had told passengers on the tube of this decision. So his withdrawal, at a time when England are in severe need for defensive reinforcements, could be seen as the ideal payback.

It has been levelled at Ferdinand that he should have told Hodgson of his decision immediately. Yet the coach himself said he had not discussed his recall with the player prior to announcing his squad. And Ferdinand stated on Monday that he wanted to speak to Hodgson face-to-face to make him aware of his withdrawal first, which is surely the right thing to do. And besides, he is a fiercely proud Englishman, so he would certainly have needed time to think before making such a big decision.

Others claim Ferguson has played a perhaps decisive part in the decision. As mentioned earlier, Ferdinand has a strict training programme at United. If he returned after international duty with a recurrence of his past injuries, which his club have spent a huge amount of time in managing, this would be a blow at a time when, whilst the Premier League looks all but sown up, the FA Cup – a trophy he has yet to win – could still require his presence for three more matches (not to mention the possibility of extra-time in all).

Ferdinand, who was banned for eight months by the FA in January 2004 for failing to attend a drugs test, insists he still wants to represent his country in the future; whether he gets chance to remains to be seen. And amidst all the debate over why he has withdrawn from this squad and his exile since June 2011, that is the real shame of it all: in an era when David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole have all won 100 caps for their country, the best defender this country has produced in decades is now unlikely to get close.


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