England's preparations for Saturday's decisive European Championship qualifier against Turkey were thrown into disarray yesterday as it emerged that Rio Ferdinand faced disciplinary action for failing to take a drug test.
The Manchester United defender later took a test and passed but could still receive a two-year ban for his initial failure. With the Football Association considering whether, in the circumstances, he could be considered for selection Sven Goran Eriksson, the England manager, was forced to again postpone naming his squad. It is now expected at 1pm today. It could be no later as the squad are due to report at that time to their Hertfordshire hotel.
The FA, like most sports bodies, consider a failure to take a test as equivalent to testing positive. Ferdinand is understood to have failed to participate when doping control officers arrived at Manchester United on 23 September to perform random testing. In the long term this failure could have led to a two-year ban. In the short term it meant Eriksson would not have been prepared to select him because two players from each team will be randomly tested after Saturday's match in Istanbul. If Ferdinand had then tested positive England could have been expelled.
Ferdinand, who it is claimed "forgot" because he was moving house, took a test 36-48 hours later.
The FA subsequently wrote to United asking Ferdinand to appear at their Soho Square headquarters next Monday to explain his failure. However, the proximity of Saturday's fixture has forced them to consider whether he should play.
Eriksson is thought to want to include Ferdinand in both the squad and Saturday's team but some senior FA figures, including, it is believed, Mark Palios the new chief executive, feel he should be omitted pending disciplinary action.
One possibility is that the hearing could be brought forward before the squad leave on Thursday. Ferdinand will need to convince the FA there was a valid reason for his initial refusal. If not he could be treated as if he had failed a test. The recommended penalty for a first offence is a two-year ban, although the FA reserves the right to refer offenders for treatment, in which case their identity would usually be protected, or to levy a reduced sentence.
Ferdinand's form of late has been patchy, but he has been a cornerstone of Eriksson's England side, notably during the World Cup. With Jonathan Woodgate injured and Gareth Southgate discarded, Eriksson would be forced to play John Terry if he is ruled out.
The manager's other first choice centre-half, Sol Campbell, is already facing a disciplinary hearing in London tomorrow. This relates to a charge of violent conduct following an attempted kick at Manchester United's Eric Djemba-Djemba during the FA Community Shield in August.
Campbell's playing commitments, and the death of his father, had made it difficult to find a date. The hearing was initially pencilled in for next Monday but Eriksson supported bringing it forward. He reasoned Campbell's focus would be improved by settling the issue.
However, this may not be so if he is found guilty and given a three-match suspension and not just because that might prompt an appeal. Less than two months ago it took a meeting with Eriksson and Palios to allay Campbell's belief that he was being victimised by the FA's disciplinary process.
Those players who do travel to Istanbul will be billeted at the Ritz Carlton and ordered not to leave the premises except on official business. This will principally be a training session at Fenerbahce's stadium, the match venue, on Friday evening.
Ferdinand's situation overshadowed Michael Owen's leg injury yesterday, but Eriksson will be quick to check on his condition when the Liverpool striker joins up with the squad today. A final decision may not be made on his fitness to travel until Thursday but it will be a surprise if he does not.
The rest of the squad are thought to be fit including David Beckham who played 87 minutes for Real Madrid on Sunday. Turkey's own wounded talisman, Hakan Sukur, also hopes to be fit after suffering a knee injury playing for Galatasaray on Saturday. The Turks, who have already met up, have no other injury worries.
One starter for Saturday's game was confirmed yesterday when Uefa named Pierluigi Collina as the replacement referee following the withdrawal, through injury, of Kim Milton Nielsen. Unlike Nielsen, infamous as the man who dismissed Beckham at France '98, the Italian referee has brought England nothing but fortune. He took charge of England's World Cup win over Argentina last year, awarding Owen the decisive penalty, and the 5-1 qualifying victory over Germany.
England's first training session is scheduled for 4pm today, just three hours after the squad are announced. Most of the players selected were contacted yesterday by telephone, others only heard late last night. For fringe players it will have been a long wait, though not as long as for Ferdinand.
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