The announcement came five weeks to the day since Roy Hodgson made it clear he did not want to face any more questions about Rio Ferdinand and that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was now officially over.
"We've moved on," he had said after England's game against Brazil, and there was something about his demeanour that night that told everyone not to push it any further. For the first time since he took the job there was a definite flash of anger from the England manager.
Reminded of that moment on Thursday, Hodgson's response was largely in keeping with the rest of a difficult episode. In his job, he said, that's what happens sometimes. "There you go … you say one thing one day, another thing another day." It was hardly a satisfactory explanation, though what he said next will probably strike a chord with many. "I was sick of talking about it. I stand by that. I'm still sick of talking about it." This time, the difference was he was smiling as he said it.
It has been a long, complex and often unhappy issue and, at times, Hodgson's thinking has been blurred, to say the least. Yet, ultimately, it is difficult to take issue with his change of mind if it means we are returning to more straightforward days when an England manager felt obliged to pick the best players – and there could be no argument about politics and other agendas coming into it.
The alternative would have been bordering on ludicrous bearing in mind John Terry is now retired from international football, Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones are injured and Chris Smalling was not even on the bench when Hodgson went to see Manchester United play Chelsea at the weekend. "A little bit deprived" is how Hodgson referred to England's options in the centre of defence. "Famished" would be another description at a time when Joleon Lescott is third- or fourth-choice at Manchester City and Gary Cahill is in and out of the Chelsea team, struggling for consistency.
Michael Dawson's form for Spurs has been timed well but Zlatan Ibrahimovic blew a gaping hole in Ryan Shawcross's credentials in Stockholm in November and the campaign at Newcastle United to get Steven Taylor a cap had succeeded only in reminding us that the centre-back positions, traditionally one of England's strengths, are threatening to become a weak link.
As for Smalling, he turned out as an over-age player for Manchester United's under-21s against Wolves on Monday, on a rutted pitch in Altrincham. If Hodgson had selected him ahead of his older club colleague all the talk about "footballing reasons" would have felt even more far-fetched than it did in the European Championship, when Hodgson was so loth to choose Ferdinand he opted for Martin Kelly, Liverpool's reserve right-back, once Cahill had broken his jaw in the final warm-up match.
Ferdinand will probably never change his view that he was left out, quite simply, because it was incompatible having him in the same squad as Terry while the Chelsea player was waiting to stand trial for racially abusing Anton, his younger brother. The morals still aggrieve him and, even with Terry no longer around, that makes it a calculated gamble on Hodgson's part. It is not just Ferdinand's relationship with Ashley Cole that is the issue here. Hodgson also talked about being unsure how Ferdinand thinks of him. "It is a concern, yes," he said. For the team's sake, this will probably need to be cleared up sooner rather than later.
The fundamental point, however, is that there are no legitimate reasons for omitting Ferdinand when he is playing with such distinction for the Premier League leaders and has overcome the injury issues that had once threatened to engulf him.
Hodgson had previously said that it would be wrong to have a player of Ferdinand's age, experience and quality in the squad restricted to the role of substitute. But the line was never fully plausible. That, after all, was precisely the situation Frank Lampard faced in the Brazil friendly last month.
He has also spoken more than once about England's defenders needing to take better care of the ball and, however great the scrutiny on Ferdinand's fitness, there has never been any doubt about his composure in possession.
As for whether Ferdinand can play more than one game a week, Hodgson made the point that he had been at Old Trafford to see him do just that against Real Madrid and Chelsea. Only seven players have started more games than Ferdinand's 24 for United this season. Lescott, the man he has replaced, has begun only 17. Dawson is on 19. Hodgson used that awful new addition to the football lexicon – "a no-brainer" – but in this case it was probably apt, however long it has taken him to reach that conclusion.
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