KRAKOW: England flew into Krakow with the focus of controversy still on manager Roy Hodgson’s decision for increasingly unclear “footballing reasons” to leave Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand at home.
Hodgson’s bad luck is to have been saddled with the legacy of everything which stemmed from a verbal clash last October between Chelsea captain John Terry and QPS’s Anton Ferdinand, younger brother of Rio.
Subsequently Terry was summoned to face a court over an accusation of racist abuse – which he denies – and he was then stripped of the England captaincy. That latter decision prompted Fabio Capello’s resignation and Hodgson’s eventual appointment, last month, to pick up the pieces.
Rio Ferdinand apparently told Hodgson that he was prepared to play alongside Terry, if needed, at Euro 2012. Inevitably, however, that would prompted enormous media curiosity over the relationship between the two men and how that might affect team spirit.
Hodgson thus quoted “footballing reasons” for taking only Terry. That was credible only before injuries forced first Gareth Barry then Gary Cahill out of the squad. To bring in, first, Phil Jagielka was defendable. But to replace Cahill with Martin Kelly, who has started only 10 games this past season for Liverpool was an ‘open goal’ for serious doubt.
Football Association chairman David Bernstein refused to be drawn on the issue on arrival in Poland.
He said: “We’re here to talk about the tournament, about the 23 players who are here and I’m not prepared to discuss – at all – any players who are not here. It might be an issue but it’s an issue I’m happy to talk about when the tournament is over maybe. We are here to talk about the tournament and about the future and that’s it.
“We all want to maximise our chances of doing well and we want to focus on what’s ahead of us – not what is behind us. We’d hope you would join us in that, looking forward to do the very best we can with positive thoughts and not dwelling on all these sort of what are now frankly historical, extraneous issues.”
Ferdinand’s agent, Jamie Moralee, had described the United man’s continuing omission as a “lack of respect.”
Ferdinand, though he has hardly appeared for England since South Africa, has played all United’s Premier League games this year to quash fears about his fitness. The only remaining “footballing” argument is that England cannot afford two slow and ageing central defenders.
Terry strained a hamstring last Saturday against Belgium but is expected to be fit to face France next Monday. England won both their warm-up games, 1-0 away to Norway in Oslo and then 1-0 at home to Belgium. Neither performance was impressive. The excuse was that players were ‘learning’ to put Roy Hodgson’s preferred 4-4-2 into practice.
The effectiveness of that learning process was hampered by the absence of Chelsea’s Champions League winners in Norway and by the attacking uncertainties created by the need to cover for the absence of Wayne Rooney from the first two group games.
Hodgson was pleased, at least, that England allowed Norway and Belgium few openings. He said he was sure – injuries permitting – of at least seven of his starting 11 against France. The four question marks concern the two strikers and the wide midfielders.
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