When England manager Roy Hodgson omitted Rio Ferdinand from his first England squad he cited football reasons. Actually he said “other” football reasons, and everyone has their opinion of what those were.
Following his recall and subsequent withdrawal this week, it seems Ferdinand is the man actually making decisions based on footballing reasons. And we need look no further than the defender’s club dressing room to explain those.
In Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Ferdinand has two perfect examples of what can happen when you choose club over country. It wasn’t a choice made lightly, and it is as much a choice made for him – by a body that requires more concentrated pre-match preparation than it once did – as anything else.
But we have seen in recent weeks that the man they were hailing as “past it” during United’s early season defensive lapses still has much to give. Only one goal conceded in United’s last six league games goes some way to proving that, as does Ferdinand’s outstanding displays against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
His decision to focus on club commitments is markedly different from that of Scholes, who many said retired too early, that he turned his back on his country. Few will be saying that of Ferdinand, who made it clear in a statement that he was as committed as ever to the three lions. His mind, yes; but how it must hurt when your body says otherwise.
His decision is more akin to that of Giggs, who could only have dreamt that six years on he wouldn’t just be playing games, but influencing them as well.
Ferdinand may look at the likes of Ledley King and enjoy every day he is able to play. He is after all only a year older than the Tottenham defender was when he retired following years of injury problems.
Ferdinand is currently injury-free, playing some of his best football in years. If it takes an “intricate pre-planned programme” to maintain that then so be it.
England may be the poorer as a result, but younger players will take his place. For Ferdinand, it is his place at the heart of his club’s defence that he will wish to keep for as long as possible. He may not be playing into his late-thirties like his club-mates, but you can bet he will try.
How long do you think Ferdinand can perform at the highest level for Manchester United?