Roy Hodgson is planning peace talks between Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole after warning them he does not want any "tensions" to infiltrate the England squad now he has ended the Manchester United defender's long exile from international football.
Hodgson said he would organise face-to-face talks with Ferdinand and Cole to emphasise that two experienced footballers could not let personal issues potentially disrupt the team before the crucial World Cup qualifier in Montenegro on 26 March and the game in San Marino four days earlier.
The England manager also admitted he might have to smooth over his own relationship with Ferdinand after leaving him out of last summer's European Championship, with the former captain still holding a grudge about the way he was treated during the John Terry affair.
"It is a concern, yes," Hodgson said. "But I can't do more than I am now, giving him the chance to come back, asking him to come back, making it clear I would like to use him. I can't do more than that. If he has a grievance and does hold it against me because I haven't selected him previously, there is not much I can do about that."
Ferdinand, whose last England game was against Switzerland in June 2011, badly fell out with Cole after the left-back gave key evidence in support of Terry when Chelsea's captain was in court in July accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Rio's younger brother. Terry was acquitted before a separate Football Association disciplinary case over the same matter found him guilty. Ferdinand was then charged with misconduct and fined £45,000 after endorsing a Twitter post that branded Cole a "choc-ice" – meaning black on the outside, white on the inside.
"I would be unhappy if there were tensions between the players," Hodgson said. "I think the spirit in the group is good. I am happy with it. They do seem to care about each other. There is always the job of making sure the group is comfortable and that people are comfortable with each other. But we are talking about two very experienced professional players and I don't envisage any problems.
"They were very good friends once. We are also talking about England as a football team, not purely individuals, and I expect the pair of them to do their jobs – Ashley at left-back and Rio at centre-half. I don't expect problems. If there are any, I will have to deal with them but I'm hoping the long-term friendship can re-emerge and any unfortunate incidents that have happened along the way can be forgotten."
Ferdinand has been included at the expense of Joleon Lescott, who pays the price for his lack of games at Manchester City. Michael Dawson has also been included because Phil Jagielka is injured, while Hodgson has brought back another Tottenham player, Scott Parker, for the first time since last summer's European Championship.
Hodgson said he was making the Ferdinand decision "on merit" and admitted the defender had won him over with his performances for the team at the top of the Premier League. He had not given Ferdinand prior notice – "I preferred it to be a nice surprise," he said – and will speak to him for the first time when the squad gathers on Monday.
"He has missed very few games this year and the one or two he has missed is because Sir Alex [Ferguson] has decided to give someone else a run-out rather than injuries. Rio has, in actual fact, played an awful lot of games, a lot more than any other centre-half. So I don't have any fears about his fitness at all.
"I have selected him because I think he is the right man to do the job. That's the bottom line. I'm hoping he will be pleased. I am hoping he plays so well that he plays every single game England play from now to eternity but I don't have a crystal ball.
"I've been following him for quite a while now. I must have seen United play at least four or five times in the last few weeks. He's obviously playing well and his team is doing extremely well. I just think this is the moment to select him. He certainly deserves it on his current form and I hope he will help us in these two matches. That's the most important thing."
Hodgson indicated Ferdinand would go straight into his team and that a player he had previously dismissed for unspecified "footballing reasons" can still harbour realistic credentials of playing for England in next year's World Cup at the age of 35.
"I feel sure he will play more games. In the past I've chosen other players but at the moment I think Rio is the right man to help us in this game and in the games ahead. Who knows what the future holds? I can't give guarantees for the future and 2014 is a long way off. But if Rio Ferdinand is still playing like he is now in 2014, he will be a major candidate for a place in the squad."
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