The official Roy Hodgson line on John Terry's retirement, disseminated by the Football Association yesterday, was one of disappointment. For a more visceral sense of how the England manager will be feeling you needed to have watched his breakfast with Club Wembley members last Thursday, the film of which has mysteriously disappeared from the governing body's website.
Hodgson made no bones then about the despair he feels when he and his assistant, Ray Lewington, hack around Premier League grounds to watch virtually no prospective England players. "If you watch Wigan play, you don't watch anyone. If you go to watch Fulham, you watch Steve Sidwell," Hodgson said – and just as Terry withdraws from the fray, so we see Joleon Lescott, twice as experienced as any other remaining current England central defender, looking more than likely to slip from Premier League view himself, any time soon.
Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, wants a central defender with more mobility than Lescott, which was why he entertained an active interest in Liverpool's Daniel Agger this summer and, when that proved unsuccessful, paid out £12m to Fiorentina for 19-year-old Matija Nastasic.
It was significant that Nastasic – and not Lescott – played for Mancini against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last week and, though there will be games ahead for the 30-year-old, do not expect them to be City's significant ones. Neither may a new deal be readily available to Lescott, who has two years to run on his current contract, and you wonder whether the defender who allowed Arsenal's young Carl Jenkinson to rob him on the City byline on Sunday, and whose limp clearance handed Laurent Koscielny an equaliser is a man looking anxiously over his shoulder at his own club's players, as well as the opposition.
Of his non-selection against Real, Lescott said that "obviously it hurt, I wanted to play". Despite the impression that the new levels of pressure are not helping Lescott – who does sometimes have a mistake in him – Mancini does not seem to harbour many doubts about his defensive game.
It is in Hodgson's and England's interests, though, that Lescott does see off the Serb in the same way that he got the better of Stefan Savic last season. Gary Cahill has missed as many matches as he has started for Chelsea this season, while Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are still finding their way at United. Everton's Phil Jagielka is the only central defender with a degree of England experience who is enjoying regular first-team action.
The short-term answer actually lies a short distance across the back field of Carrington from the City training centre where, day-to-day, Lescott is trying to prove himself. Rio Ferdinand has never signalled an unwillingness to play for England once more, despite the determination of both Hodgson and Fabio Capello to persist with Terry, and Hodgson is the only impediment to him playing for his country for an 82nd time.
A return for Ferdinand is not without difficulties, namely Ashley Cole, who was integral at Westminster magistrates' court in July to Terry's defence against the accusation that he had racially abused Ferdinand's brother, Anton. Ferdinand's endorsement on Twitter of the use of the term "choc ice" to criticise Cole – Ferdinand claimed it meant "fake" – complicates the picture. But Ferdinand has done no wrong. It is to his credit that the slight he has justifiably felt to have suffered from England has not led him to preclude a return.
Since Ferdinand is 34 in November, his value to Hodgson beyond the short term looks questionable, which makes the search for alternatives more pressing. Jones, out for a further nine weeks with a knee injury, is a 20-year-old in whom much store is now set and yet he still has only five caps. Smalling has three. For England, these men remain a hope and no more.
The gaze must turn to Stoke's Ryan Shawcross, the kind of old-fashioned centre-half in whom Hodgson has always set store. Steven Caulker's fledgling steps at Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, are not insignificant.Reuse content