Hodgson's recall of Ferdinand is a backward step
By Chris Higham
It's not been a great week for me for many different reasons but on Thursday, my footballing fortunes took another downturn as it was announced by England manager Roy Hodgson that he would be recalling Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand into the England squad for the two upcoming qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.
In my view, after Hodgson had previously discarded Ferdinand for footballing reasons, his recall represents just another backward step in the tepid environment that surrounds our England team.
I should probably qualify my attitude before I move a step further. Prior to 2010, I was a rabid, blindly loyal England fan who supported everything about The Three Lions family. However,in late 2009 I had founded my own blog and suddenly began to look at the set up around our National team with more discerning eyes, and frankly, it wasn't a pretty picture.
Following the debacle of events in South Africa under manager Fabio Capello, I advocated a move towards culling the crusty old veterans who had been falsely trotted out to the fans as 'The Golden Generation" and who had performed so miserably in Cape Town and at Free State Stadium. I myself suggested starting afresh with younger players, and even, if necessary, use the Euro2012 tournament as an introduction for them to experience what international competition is like at the sharp end of the blade.
I was sick of the same old tired excuses of "we'll be OK on the night", and "we're only going to get better" than emanated from England press conferences both before and after these abject displays. It was time.
Well, the FA apparently didn't agree and Capello lingered on until his own muddied principles forced him out of the job. Enter Roy Hodgson, who I have a lot of time for. Unfortunately for England managers though, it seems that the white hot nature of that seat sucks their sense of reform and adventure right out of their system, leaving us with just another clone of the previous occupant.
Encouragingly though, Hodgson dispensed with the Barrys, the Lampards, the Terrys and as I had hoped, the Ferdinands of our world in favour of Leighton Baines, Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere,and Danny Welbeck to name just a few, but there were signs that he was not true to that cause. Persistence with recalls of Frank Lampard and the murmurs of a disgruntled Ferdinand being offered a place were worrying, at least to me.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not some Manchester United-hater who wants none of their players in the squad. If you check my bio, you'll see I've been a fan since I was a boy, but I am aghast at the sheer mediocrity of it all.
It has been 46 years since we got to the Final of a major international competition and we still don't get it. My point is that for every game that a Ferdinand or a Lampard plays, that is one less outing for a younger man to gain his stripes. Disbelievers will say that the first order of business is to qualify and that's what this gives you. No. The first order of business is to make a Final and then when you get there, win the darned trophy. As England fans, we are so consumed with today that we completely forget tomorrow, until that day finally arrives and we get humiliated by another German or Italian side that has all the tools to succeed at it's disposal.
Many people will say that I am unrealistic, but I could care less. The way we run our England side doesn't work and frankly, I'd rather we don't qualify with youth, than qualify with tired, old veteran players who aren't good enough to get beyond the Group stage. Maybe then, this nightmare scenario of not qualifying, if it were to happen, would be enough to jolt the FA and the men who run the sport in England to rethink the whole strategy.
Some experts are down on English young talent and don't believe that our game can produce top players any longer. It is hardly surprising as the game in England is structured towards the collective success of the Leagues rather than the National team. In that case, then maybe we have to restructure how we bring young players through, but something has to change.
The FA opened up the new St George's training facility last year as a step forward to replenishing our youth but if we keep recalling veterans back into the fold, we might as well padlock the place up or rent it out to a sport that will use it to improve standards. To make matters worse this week,Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson both cast doubts on whether the player would even be able to join up with the squad to train due to conflicts in Ferdinand's established training regimen. However, as this article is being written, confirmation has come through that the player will be present after all. Do I need to explain my views any further after this episode?
I'll be watching these upcoming qualifiers which present totally different challenges and I'll have my fingers crossed as usual, but honestly, the Ferdinand recall is just the tip of an iceberg that has been melting beneath our feet for almost 50 years now, and unless something changes, we'll all be there agonising at the death again in the summer of 2014.