From the moment England qualified for next summer's Euro 2004 finals, Sven Goran Eriksson has stressed that, if England have everyone available, they can be considered real contenders. Now, more than six months before England fly to Portugal, he has lost one of his own centre-halves, ruled ineligible by his own employers.
Eriksson is regularly exasperated with the Football Association's governance but few issues have annoyed him as much as this one. He will accept that Ferdinand must be banned but it will not have escaped Eriksson's notice that, had the ban been levied within a week of Ferdinand committing the offence, instead of three months later, the player would be available to him in the summer, albeit short of match practice. And, had the procedures and regulations been stricter and clearer, he would not have a mutinous bunch of players on his hands.
Ferdinand has been one of Eriksson's linchpin figures since taking over three years ago and England's passage to the World Cup finals owed much to his central defensive partnership with Sol Campbell. Now he must find a replacement, with John Terry the leading candidate. Terry is the only man to play all five England internationals this season and was excellent in the goalless draw in Turkey which secured qualification. With the other candidates short of experience Gareth Southgate, in fine form at Middlesbrough, may now retain a toehold in the squad, and opportunity knocks for the likes of Wes Brown, Jonathan Woodgate and, as back-up in the event of further absentees, Ledley King or Anthony Gardner.
The verdict will have hardened the anti-FA mood of an embittered team. It may be fortunate that England do not meet up again until February, and that is for a friendly in Portugal which will concentrate minds by virtue of location.
However, there are likely to be repercussions when negotiations resume on player performance bonuses and commercial appearances on the FA's behalf. In extreme cases it could persuade some players, including Ferdinand, to retire from international football. For varying reasons Alan Shearer, Duncan Ferguson, Roy Keane, Denis Irwin, Neil Lennon and Lauren have all done this in recent years.
In Eriksson's favour is the fact that the players have no problems with him. The England manager was very careful never to condemn Ferdinand. If they can avoid further depletion they should still be contenders in the summer. They cannot, though, afford to lose any more senior players, for whatever reason.
- More about:
- Gareth Southgate
- John Terry
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- Sir Alex Ferguson
- Sol Campbell
- Sven-goran Eriksson
- Wes Brown