Ferdinand taught lesson by England

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The Independent Online
Rio Ferdinand yesterday learned that playing football like a grown-up is not enough. To earn the honour of representing England you have to behave like one, too.

Last Friday the teenager was being celebrated as football's new "bright young thing". Billed as the heir to Bobby Moore's gilded legend at both club and country, he was called up for England's World Cup tie with Moldova next Wednesday barely six months after making his first start for West Ham. At 18 years and 10 months, Ferdinand had a real chance of becoming the youngest England international since Duncan Edwards.

Then he was arrested and charged with drinking and driving. Yesterday, as news of his arrest and subsequent conviction broke, he was told he will no longer be considered for next week's match, not even as a substitute.

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, made the decision to exclude Ferdinand without need of prompting by the Football Association. In the wake of the revelations about the state of the driver involved in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, he had little choice, but it was emphasised yesterday that Hoddle would have acted the same regardless.

Ferdinand, who pleaded guilty and was banned from driving for a year, was still allowed to join the England party last night and will train with them.

Some will wonder why Ferdinand is rejected while, last season, Paul Gascoigne was selected despite allegations that he had beaten his wife. The crucial difference would appear to be that Ferdinand has been charged and convicted while Gascoigne was not, neither the police nor his wife having made a complaint.

Since Gascoigne admitted his behaviour, this argument may seem disingenuous but the inconsistency reflects Hoddle's interest in the pastoral side of his job. Many feel Gascoigne is beyond redemption but Hoddle believes the way to bring the best from him, both as a man and a footballer, is through counselling and support from within the England framework. Ferdinand would appear less in need of help and the hope is that by this salutary lesson he - and the other young players in the squad - will see what they are risking.

That was his club's view. Peter Storrie, the West Ham chief executive, said: "The player deeply regrets his actions. He has made a mistake and paid a high price. The club hopes he will learn by this and will concentrate his efforts on the exciting career ahead of him."

It was not entirely clear yesterday what type of mistake Ferdinand made after celebrating his England call-up on Saturday night. Initial reports said he was caught driving home but his mother, Janice, said he had taken a taxi that night. She said he was stopped on Sunday having not appreciated how long alcohol stayed in the blood. She also told the Press Association this occurred in the afternoon, which would require a formidable amount of alcohol to have been consumed the previous night. Earlier, clearly upset, she was quoted by West Ham's Clubcall suggesting he was stopped in the morning having left a garage without turning his lights back on - which must have been early in the day since it is light by 7am.

Either way Ferdinand is not regarded as a heavy drinker and this is seen more as a lapse in judgement than an illustration of a self-destructive lifestyle. That is one reason why Hoddle has given him the encouragement of allowing him to remain with the squad; another is that he and the senior players will be able to caution him privately about his behaviour.

"He is absolutely devastated," his mother added. "He is really distraught and so very sorry. We are all so sad. Rio has had such a solid head on his shoulders. He has been very strong and positive about keeping away from temptation. He does a man's job out there on a Saturday and he will fight back from this."

In less than a week Ferdinand has reached for the stars and stared at the abyss. It is now his choice as to which path he follows. Yesterday, Hoddle pointed him in the direction.