Despite being declared quite literally unfit to captain Manchester United a couple of weeks back, Rio Ferdinand has confirmed that he will be resuming his duties at international level when England take on Montenegro in their Euro 2012 Qualifying campaign at Wembley tomorrow evening.
Ferdinand was forced to yield the armband to Steven Gerrard when an untimely knee injury put paid to his World Cup hopes just days before the tournament was due to begin.
However, whereas the United defender is surprised to have been included in the squad at all, it seems England manager Fabio Capello is willing to give him the benefit of a full 90 minutes to reassert his skipper credentials;
“I really didn’t know about the captaincy. I was more worried about being in the squad, but I played in a few games and the manager has obviously looked at everything and seen that I am the right man to be captain.
It’s a fantastic honour. [Gerrard] has done a fantastic job, especially in the qualifying wins.
The manager has spoken to both of us about it – we’re both professional, mature and experienced players. If it had gone the other way then I’d say that I hope he does well and that I’m behind him.
At the end of the day it is more important that we have a number of leaders out there. The more leaders the better. If we continue to play in the way we have started this campaign then we’ll be on the right road.”
A recurring lumbar problem has curtailed his recovery process on several occasions, but Ferdinand has now made four appearances for United since fully returning to the fold (helping to significantly shore things up after the somewhat wavering cameos of his understudy Jonny Evans) and Capello believes that, from what he has witnessed, there should be no concerns over the 31-year-old’s fitness;
“I think there is no problems with Rio’s injuries. He is really good when he plays. He plays like a leader and he is really important for the players. I watched him against Valencia and then after and he played even better. Now he is 100% fit.”
Which is quite a large statement when you consider that Ferdinand has only appeared in 44 of United’s last 105 games (spanning back to December of 2008), and that last season came and went without him managing to play two consecutive games in their entirety at club level.
In his column for the Daily Telegraph, pundit Alan Hansen has this morning urged Ferdinand to follow the leads of his United teammates Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and call time on his international career in order to prolong his tenure in the domestic game;
“If you were a 25-year-old with his track record, you would be in trouble. But at Rio’s age, I think it gives a clear message that he must now decide whether he wants to extend the longevity of his career with United or continue to play for England.
I don’t think he can play for both. Having had such a terrible run with injuries, Rio’s priority is to play for United and get back into the groove of performing on a consistent basis of uninterrupted football for at least three months.”
Whereas Manchester United need Ferdinand’s services at the moment, England really don’t (current injury crisis aside).
With John Terry, Phil Jagielka, Matthew Dawson and Gary Cahill all established in the full squad, as well as talented youngsters such as Ryan Shawcross, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling (the heir apparent to Ferdinand’s thrown at Old Trafford) all waiting in the wings for future consideration, there is hardly a paucity of options at Capello’s disposal.
It may seem a little harsh to bring the international retirement of a player that has just been handed the captaincy of his country but, given his ongoing struggle against physical decay, it may be a quandary that Ferdinand may be wise to give some serious thought to.
A decision to bite the bullet and focus entirely on club commitments has undoubtedly facilitated Scholes’ and Giggs’ capacity to play at the very top into their mid-30’s, with Scholes especially enjoying a ‘second wind’ (and multiple critical reappraisals) since retiring from England duties in 2004 at the age of 29.
Ferdinand has half-heartedly signalled his intentions to retire before, telling United chief executive David Gill back in 2008 that he is planning to draw his career to a close when his current contract expires in 2012 – admitting that he’d have to be ‘very lucky with injuries’ to be in a condition to continue playing past the age of 34.
I hope the retrospective irony isn’t lost on him.