Ferdinand faces formidable test of concentration

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Tomorrow night will mark an anniversary for Rio Ferdinand. He hopes it will also signal a reawakening. Three years to the night on which, to considerable acclaim, he made his England debut he is expected to make only his fifth international start.

Tomorrow night will mark an anniversary for Rio Ferdinand. He hopes it will also signal a reawakening. Three years to the night on which, to considerable acclaim, he made his England debut he is expected to make only his fifth international start.

The opposition could not be more daunting, whoever Giovanni Trapattoni perms from Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Delvecchio, Filippo and Simone Inzaghi. Yet that may be to Ferdinand's benefit. As he accepts, a lack of concentration is one of his biggest faults and the constant threat provided by such an illustrious forward line may be just what he needs.

At least, for the moment, the West Ham defender has, in Peter Taylor, a coach who believes in his ability and a formation which suits him. Kevin Keegan did neither, giving Ferdinand less than three hours' football, just 45 minutes of which were in a competitive match. His reservations culminated in Ferdinand's exclusion from the Euro 2000 squad.

This, Ferdinand admitted after arriving in Italy last night, had not been such a surprise to him. Keegan's reluctance to play him meant he had got the message.

It had all seemed so different when, eight days after his 19th birthday, he had come on as a substitute for Gareth Southgate against Cameroon. Given the responsibility of his preferred sweeper role he responded by producing a series of surging runs into the opposition half. A new star seemed to have been born. Though he did not play, he went to the World Cup and, soon after, appeared to have made the breakthrough when he started, and impressed, in consecutive England internationals. Then Hoddle resigned.

"I played at a young age and things were going really well," said Ferdinand. "But then for various reasons I was not given the opportunity. The manager changed. Kevin Keegan came in with a different opinion. Maybe I was not playing well. Now it is a clean slate again."

Harry Redknapp's preference for playing Neil Ruddock in central defence at Upton Park may have slowed Ferdinand's development but, with Ruddock's departure for Crystal Palace, he is getting the best of both worlds. He plays in the centre and has the experience of Stuart Pearce alongside him.

"He is somebody who, as a youngster, I looked up to as he gives his all in every game," said Ferdinand of the 38-year-old. "He's been a big influence on me, on and off the field. He has an aura about him and that rubs off on the youngsters at the club."

And yet Ferdinand's ability to concentrate remains a doubt, with pundits like Mark Lawrenson criticising him. He admits: "I need to work on my concentration levels. It is vital I don't switch off for a second. Forwards can get away with lapses and buy their way back with a goal but if I make a mistake I am going to get hammered.

"I admit I am scared. I wake up wondering if I am ever going to achieve the goals I want to reach. I wonder if I am going to do all the things people expect of me. I go home from some matches and can't sleep. I am my own biggest critic. My opinion on the game is an honest one and I listen to that more than anyone else. But I am ready. I have always believed in my potential and ability."

After Lawrenson's criticism Redknapp responded with the suggestion that, if Ferdinand were Italian, he would have won 40 caps. Tonight, with the likes of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro in the opposing ranks, we - and Sven Goran Eriksson - will get the chance to see how realistic the comparison is.

Comments