It seems highly likely that Rio Ferdinand’s England career is now over. The decision to exclude him from the England squad for the European Championships is obviously clouded by the circumstances surrounding John Terry’s impending court appearance. And, the reaction from Team Ferdinand has not won him much sympathy (who knew that Jamie Moralee had ended up as Ferdinand’s spokesperson? That was most surreal – I remember Moralee as Glenn Roeder’s big money failure for Watford. He had a torrid time, couldn’t hit a cow’s arse etc.). But, regardless of what happens to Terry, if we have seen the last of Ferdinand, it is utterly depressing that his international career should be allowed to end this way.
Ferdinand is not to everyone’s liking. During his career he has come to epitomise modern football stardom. A rampant self-promoting ego who at times has displayed mercenary-like traits. Back in 2005, his protracted contract negotiations with Manchester United were hardly seen as an act of gratitude, given the club’s loyalty to him during his lengthy ban for failing to complete a random drugs test.
People remember these things, and perhaps this explains why there wasn’t more of an uproar at his initial exclusion from the Roy Hodgson’s England squad. That, and the fact that at 33 he is seen as being past his best. Even Rio Ferdinand would probably accept that his best days as professional footballer are behind him. But, he is far from a spent force, and as Rafael Van der Vaart and Cristiano Ronaldo have testified, he remains one of the best central defenders England have to offer. More than that, he is the finest England have produced in the past two decades, possibly longer.
For those, like me, who were too young to have seen Bobby Moore, Ferdinand was the English defender that we had been crying out for. A commanding presence with so much more to his game than a blood and guts hard man. Here was a player of unquestionable class and composure; Ferdinand made defending look good. After decades praising the continental centre backs who could read the game and use the ball intelligently, suddenly we had one of our own.
While it would be churlish to suggest that John Terry has not also been a very successful centre back, he has never been the player Ferdinand was at his peak. And since both players have been in decline for the past couple of seasons, the decision to exclude Ferdinand at Terry’s expense is indefensible – the ambiguous ‘football reasons’ referred to by Hodgson and recently endorsed by Sven Goran Eriksson simply don’t stack up.
Irritating he may be, but Ferdinand does not deserve to thrown on the scrap heap like this. Hodgson is right to suggest he has an eye on the future, and this tournament should indeed be forward looking. In that context, you wouldn’t make a convincing case for Ferdinand in a starting role. Joleon Lescott has earned his place on merit, and it would be pragmatic to make Phil Jagielka his first choice partner, laying the foundations for 2014.
But, what a fantastic deputy England could have had on the bench and in the squad, helping to develop Phil Jones into the player we all want him to be. It’s a massive missed opportunity. England simply don’t produce enough players of Ferdinand’s calibre to disregard them like this.