When he was asked yesterday to name another occasion on which he had lost a key player on the eve of a major game, Fabio Capello mentioned the name of Dejan Savicevic, the former Yugoslavia striker who, then a key part of Capello's Milan team, missed the1995 European Cup final against Ajax.
As omens go, he could not have picked a much worse one. As defending champions, and favourites, Milan lost that final in Vienna to an Ajax team of players just making their reputations in the game. That Milan team of Capello never regained the trophy. No wonder the England manager brushed off the comparison with Ferdinand's injury yesterday, although he is forgiving for wondering if his team is starting to develop a nasty habit of bad luck.
Capello called it "a curse" on his players although it should also be pointed out that he was laughing as he did so. If it is a curse then the England manager is doing his best to show that he is not concerned by the problem.
The scale and significance of England's injuries are getting worse. First it was David Beckham on 14 March which, although a potentially sad end to a long international career, was by no means a catastrophe for England's chances in South Africa. The implications of Gareth Barry's ankle ligaments injury on 5 May were worse and it remains to be seen whether, despite training yesterday, he can recapture his form.
That the next injury should have been the man who, four years ago pioneered the "World Cup wind-up", is no joke at all. This time Ferdinand, who goes home today, is not – as he would surely say himself – "merking" anyone.
Steven Gerrard is a fine replacement but it does rather beg the question whether this England team have not been disadvantaged by another long domestic campaign. In Austria, Ferdinand was at great pains to establish that the problems with his back had been resolved by the injections that had stiffened up the ligaments around his spine. He even described the season just finished as a "non-event" for him because he had played only 13 league games – and that was before yesterday's news.
Ferdinand was in no doubt that his back problems were behind him but, equally, he never looked quite right in the game against Japan on Sunday. The two injuries might have been completely separate and unrelated but he always looked like a player who, after such significant problems this season, was vulnerable to the kind of accident that befell him yesterday.
At his best, Ferdinand is undoubtedly one of the most important players in the England team but when he is struggling for form he can be a liability. That Capello picked five centre-backs is a blessing although it remains to be seen just how long Ledley King stands up to the rigours of training. He came out so late for yesterday's session that he missed Capello's pre-training briefing.
"All the players here are ready to play for me," Capello said yesterday. "They're at the same level. They're ready." The Capello camp have taken as evidence King's participation in Tottenham's games against Bolton and Manchester City at the end of the season – two in four days – as evidence that he can stand up to the pressure of tournament football.
For Michael Dawson, who was cut from the 30-man England provisional squad still not having won a single cap, his luck has finally changed. There will be holidays cancelled and bags swiftly packed but in reality he will probably finish this tournament without a cap to his name with King, Jamie Carragher and Matthew Upson still ahead of him in the pecking order.
Capello conceded yesterday that Ferdinand's injury had been a shock to his players. They were, as he said, "upset" by the accident. But this is a World Cup, a chance to make history compressed into six weeks and he will have to gather together his patched-up squad and soldier on.
England's injury curse in the run-up to finals...
Kevin Keegan, '82 Chronic back problems, recurred during second-round match
Ian Wright, '98 Recurrence of an ankle injury.
Steven Gerrard, '02 Groin problem, pulled up in Liverpool's last game of the season, missed finals.
David Beckham, '02 Broken metatarsal, hurried back but not match-fit for finals.
Gary Neville, '02 Broken left foot, missed finals.
Michael Owen, '06 Broken metatarsal. Went half-fit, damaged cruciate during finals.
Wayne Rooney, '06 Metatarsal break, not match-fit during finals.
Beckham, 2010 Achilles tendon tear, missed finals.
Rio Ferdinand, 2010 Knee injury in training, misses finals.Reuse content