Ferdinand admits it took time to realise the perils of his life 'on the lash'

The England captain speaks out about the harmful effects of drinking
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The Independent Football

The more we discover about the life and times of Andy Carroll, the more it would seem that if he did not exist then Viz magazine would be obliged to create him.

He is, among other things, the most unrepentantly old-school footballer of current times. He drinks, he gets in bother and he appears on the front page of the News of the World, and even though this 6ft 3in tower of trouble from Newcastle United did not utter a single word yesterday he still found himself centre-stage.

Carroll is yet to speak in a public capacity as an England footballer, much less strike a ball or win a header in the cause of the senior team. That will come tonight. But yesterday he was the key topic of discussion as Fabio Capello and his captain Rio Ferdinand came to discuss the problem with Carroll: a 21-year-old footballer who is rapidly re-defining the standard for the bad boys of English football.

That Ferdinand was prepared to question Carroll's refuelling habits – his last front-page misadventure had him on an all-night drinking session after the 5-1 defeat of Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby that finished at 5.45am in a McDonald's – suggested that even he was taken aback. As a former offender in that arena himself, the defender tends to rein himself in when it comes to judging others. But there was no stopping the England captain yesterday when he warned Carroll, in the lingua franca of the very best Premier League carousers that there was "no room in the game to go out on the lash and get smashed like you used to."

The strength of Ferdinand's criticism, and Capello's openness about the need for Carroll to change his lifestyle, demonstrated the extent to which the striker has set the alarm bells ringing even among his typically nonchalant fellow professionals. Like Carroll there have been players on bail before and, like Carroll, there have been players on assault charges before, but few have had a private life that says "loose cannon" quite so obviously.

For his part, Ferdinand has had some tabloid escapades of his own including, but not limited to, the infamous Ayia Napa sex video and the drink-driving conviction that delayed him getting his England debut. But he has never strayed quite as close to the edge as Carroll, with his car burnt out on the drive of team-mate Kevin Nolan, has in the last 12 months.

Ferdinand has always defended the right of modern footballers to enjoy themselves – and he has been the prime mover in some infamous occasions when they have done so – but yesterday was an appeal to Carroll's sporting integrity. Comparing his own bad habits to those of Michael Owen in their early years, Ferdinand said for all the complications in the rest of his life it would ultimately be Carroll's performance that suffered.

"There are so many different factors that determine whether you become a top player, but going out drinking will definitely be to your detriment and will hold you back from being a top, top player," he said. "I don't think people need to live like monks. It's about managing yourself properly and going out at the correct times.

"If you have a game in midweek, I don't see the point of having a drink on the Saturday. Why are you going out for a drink? It took me a long time to understand that, but I've been down that road. Some of the kids look at you and ask why you're saying things like that, but when you get to 28 or 29, you'll realise and wish: 'If only I didn't drink at 21, I might have got up the ladder a bit quicker.'

"Looking back, the Nevilles [Gary and Phil] – people used to laugh at them, saying they were 'so professional' and this and that, but they were good professionals at a young age. Look at the length of their careers now.

"It [drinking] is part of the social network. As a footballer, you have to detach yourself from that. It can be hard if you've been brought up like that. It's not just football, it's in society. Kids have to make decisions and choices in life. Just because you're a young footballer doesn't mean you're more mature. You've got to make yourself more mature. It doesn't just happen."

Capello has had to readjust to the peculiarities of English footballers during almost three years in charge of the national team but even the Italian has never had to warn a player before he has even been capped. If the England manager is to pin any kind of long-term faith in Carroll, much less take him to Euro 2012 – if England qualify – then he will have to know that the player can be trusted.

With a court date looming in January and his eventful private life, it can easily be overlooked that Carroll still has to prove himself at international level tonight. It does not get much tougher than this. He will be expected to lead the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation against France, one of the best football nations in the world. This will not be his only chance but if, ultimately, he falls short of the standard required, all the warnings about his drinking and his private life will be incidental.

"I have to see Carroll play like the game he played against Arsenal," Capello said. "I monitored him. He played very well. He received the ball very well, his movement was good, he attacked the space well, he was fantastic in the air. I hope he plays the same quality of game that he played against Arsenal."

The comic-strip quality to Carroll makes him an intriguing figure, if not always an admirable one. And, befitting all good footballers, his talent will dictate that he is afforded plenty of second chances. But tonight is one of those significant occasions which even he, with his apparent indifference to life's ups and downs, must acknowledge.