Roy Hodgson once compared his globe-trotting career to a Kandinsky painting and the abstract lines of his relationship with the best English centre-half in the Premier League this season have been every bit as confusing as a work by the Russian expressionist.
Ever since Hodgson unconvincingly offered up "other footballing reasons" to explain Rio Ferdinand's absence from his Euro 2012 squad at the height of tensions involving John Terry, their strained relationship has been obscured by obfuscation and communication issues.
From the second-hand tube conversation that appeared to presage Ferdinand's enforced international retirement to the "will he, won't he?" speculation of recent days and the obscure "pre-planned details" of Ferdinand's medical regime that necessitated his withdrawal from the squad for qualifiers in San Marino and Montenegro, nothing has been straightforward.
Ferdinand, seemingly under pressure from Sir Alex Ferguson to consider the impact a return to the international fold would have on the carefully calibrated fitness regime that has prolonged his Manchester United career, sought to cut through that fog via a face-to-face meeting with Hodgson in London on Sunday night. There, 24 hours after some expected him to pull out but Ferguson further confused matters by saying he would definitely join up, he sought to explain his reasons for withdrawing the day before the squad was due to meet at St George's Park.
Both parties are said to have left on good terms but the upshot is that, instead of playing for England in Montenegro, Ferdinand will be seeking the help of specialists in Milton Keynes in preparation for a Premier League match at the Stadium of Light and an FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge. Far from clarifying matters, Ferdinand has prompted more questions than answers and, not for the first time, left an England manager ruing the influence of Sir Alex Ferguson and wondering whether he could not have negotiated the politics of international squad selection more cannily.
His handling of Ferdinand ahead of the biggest test of his regime so far – given that he was still enjoying a honeymoon period when he took England to the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine at short notice last summer – does not reflect particularly well on Hodgson.
He did not want to upset protocol by contacting Ferdinand before the squad was unveiled, with the FA following the usual routine of sending out a text message to the chosen players while club secretaries were informed which of their number had been picked. Hodgson then called Ferguson and it was Saturday before he attempted to ring Ferdinand, failing to get through and leaving a voicemail.
Ten months into a job in which he has been widely praised for changing the atmosphere around the squad since the austere dying days of the Fabio Capello regime, his traditional approach to squad announcements is starting to look like an achilles heel. Even though issues with other players, notably Michael Carrick and Micah Richards, have been caused by a reluctance to pick up the phone Hodgson appears unwilling to change his way of doing things. Given their history and the amount of time that has passed since Ferdinand won his last cap in June 2011, this was surely a situation that cried out for an exception to be made.
And even if Hodgson was not able to float in a call to the 34-year-old, then surely one of his medical team could have made contact with their colleagues at Manchester United? As well as paying lengthy tribute to Ferguson in a bid to remain on terms with a man who at times gives the impression of being at war with the FA, Hodgson this weekend lauded that very medical team for their diligence.
"Whenever players come to join us, we always research what their routines are with their club sides, what they are used to doing two days after a match for example or the day before a game," he said. "To such an extent we take that into account with our programme and our medical people are in constant contact with the medical people and sports science people at all the clubs." If that is the case, it is hard to see why nobody knew about Ferdinand's "intricate pre-planned programme" to manage his ongoing fitness issues, which Ferguson has previously said make it impossible for him to play two matches in four days.
Ferguson's less than coded displeasure at Ferdinand's call-up after so long away from the squad, at a time when alternatives are thin on the ground, must have had a bearing on the player's decision. So, too, the acrid atmosphere caused by John Terry's racial abuse of his brother, Anton Ferdinand, into which Hodgson stepped, and the mixed messages, not least those delivered on the Jubilee line to random punters, since.
But above all this looks like Ferdinand taking a pragmatic decision to prolong his Manchester United career at the expense of an uncertain future with England, without closing the door on a return at some point.
Both Ferdinand and England were at pains to insist that his international career was far from over and he could still, against the odds, appear in a third major tournament, eight years after England went out to Portugal in the Arena AufSchalke. In truth, the same issues will surely arise next time his name comes up for consideration. Meanwhile, his absence make England's odds of getting to Brazil at all that bit longer.
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