Football: Time is short for Ferdinand to find fitness

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The Independent Online
SHOULD Les Ferdinand fail to make the cut for the World Cup on 2 June, or whenever the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, names his final 22, I hope for Christian Gross's sake he is recuperating from Tottenham's tortuous season far away in the Swiss Alps or somewhere.

There was no doubting yesterday whom the desperately unfortunate Ferdinand holds responsible for his fall from a position of some eminence in the England squad to that of a borderline hopeful for France. In short, the Spurs striker believes that his five weeks' inactivity at the start of the year after the Spurs manager forced him to train on with a leg injury caused him to drop down the England pecking order.

Gross has a tough approach to training, a method recommended by the Tottenham fitness coach who-never-was, Fritz Schmidt. Ferdinand suffered a dead leg in the game against Barnsley just before Christmas and believes that with two or three days' rest he could have made a quick recovery. "Because I was made to train, I was out for five weeks," Ferdinand said.

"The manager and this fitness Schmidt had this idea that if you had an injury, although you might not be able to fully train, you could still do a certain amount of training. After one run, I told him [Gross] the leg was tight, but he said if I could get through another session there would be no problem and I should be better by the next day. The next day I couldn't move."

When the full extent of Ferdinand's injury became clear, the Spurs manager, according to Ferdinand, told him there had been "a lack of information about the seriousness of the injury. He had been misinformed by the physio department."

None of this helped Ferdinand in his desire to play in a World Cup. He eventually made up some lost ground and led England B to victory against Russia last month, opening the scoring. His strike rate for England has been useful: five goals in 14 appearances.

He felt his pace, strength and aerial ability offered "an alternative", and he would go to the finals fresh. Contrary to expectations, he developed a good working relationship with his former Newcastle team-mate Alan Shearer. But the even more intuitive understanding which Teddy Sheringham enjoys with the captain and the rise of Michael Owen has left Ferdinand contesting that fourth striking position with Dion Dublin, Paul Merson and Paul Scholes.

"I still feel Les needs a lot of work," Hoddle said. "He looked terrific for 60 minutes in the last game of the season but, as you would expect, he petered out. He'll be further down the line for the training we've given him."

By yesterday, Paul Ince and Graeme Le Saux had still not taken part in any practice match due to injuries, whereas Jamie Redknapp, so often injured when close to an England call-up, was "looking fine". He should make today's deadline for fitness and could figure against Saudi Arabia at Wembley tomorrow.