Damned either way: Roy Hodgson couldn't win on Rio Ferdinand selection dilemma
England manager is getting it in the neck over Rio's call-up but, asks Sam Wallace, how else could he have handled it?
There was a time when an England manager handed a list of players to a secretary and the chosen few were sent letters curtly addressing them by their surnames and outlining the details of their rendezvous. There were no chauffeur-driven cars to pick them up, or custom-built Football Association centres like Bond-villain lairs in the English countryside. You got there under your own bloody steam.
These days, organising a squad of 26 footballers to fulfil an international fixture can seem about as complicated as negotiating the bail-out strategy for the Cypriot economy.
Could Roy Hodgson have called Rio Ferdinand last week to check if playing an international, or even two, would be in keeping with his self-styled "intricate" training programme? Well, yes, maybe, but do not think that approach would not have come with its own set of tedious problems.
When Hodgson met his coaching staff eight days ago to discuss the squad for the World Cup qualifiers, Ferdinand was not yet a certainty. Even if he was, and Hodgson had made contact, would that have been enough time to adapt Ferdinand's training programme to enable him to play for England?
What if Hodgson had told the player, the news had leaked and then Ferdinand had subsequently been unable to make it? Whoever was named in that squad would not just be well aware of their status as second choice, there would also be the lingering suspicion that some players were being treated differently to others.
The counter-argument to that is Joleon Lescott and Steven Caulker, called up to replace Michael Dawson and Ferdinand, are under no doubt that they are second choice, so what is the difference? The difference is that the England manager, as much as he can to the best of his abilities, tries to treat his squad equally and, after that, a replacement is a replacement.
Had Hodgson tipped Ferdinand off he was due a recall, the England manager might not have made life any easier for himself. It might not even have given Ferdinand time to accommodate the games within his schedule. One way or another, Hodgson was damned if he did call and damned if he didn't.
In the end, he chose the simplest and fairest way. Hodgson told the players and their clubs the composition of his squad at just about the same time as he announced it to the public. Not the most sophisticated strategy but one that would at least stand up to scrutiny in the inevitable storm of analysis and recriminations that followed.
In the immediate aftermath of Ferdinand's withdrawal yesterday there was the usual rush in some quarters to diminish Hodgson and to portray him as a blunderer. It was even compared to the failure to call up Michael Carrick for Euro 2012 over the misunderstanding that the player had retired – a completely different scenario.
At certain points in the life cycle of the England team, people grasp that the manager's job is preposterously hard. There is sympathy for him and the mood is with the poor bloke in charge rather than the 23 egos he must marshal.
Unfortunately for Hodgson, he is currently copping it, with little thought given to just how sensitive these superstars can be or just how much self-interest governs the club game – and that is not a snipe at Manchester United, it refers to the whole lot of them.
It used to be that it was the impossible job when it came to England winning tournaments. These days, it is a painful struggle to get a group of them under the same hotel roof just to play a game to qualify for the damn thing.
For Euro 2012, Hodgson decided Terry and Ferdinand were incompatible in the same squad and selected one – who happened to be the nation's less-popular choice. Last week, he picked Ferdinand on the basis, partly one assumes, that in a recent BBC interview Ferdinand said he would pack his bags and go "straight there" if asked.
If only it was so simple. Just a reminder: in England's last game they beat Brazil at Wembley, the first time the national team had beaten the five-times world champions in 23 years. Hodgson might be wondering this morning if anyone remembers that.
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