When Fabio Capello took Rio Ferdinand aside this week to remind him of his responsibilities for England, this kind of performance was just what he wanted. No frills, and no thrills.
Ferdinand responded to the verbal "boot up the backside" from the England manager with a performance of composure against Belarus that will have pleased Capello. The visitors never put him under too much pressure, but in return the central defender did not make any of the mistakes that have littered his game of late.
From the moment Ferdinand broke into the first team at West Ham in 1996, he has been fighting the perception that he makes too many sloppy mistakes. His talent on the ball has never been in doubt, which is why Leeds spent £18m to recruit him in 2000 and Manchester United paid out £29.1m two years later.
But as Ferdinand approaches his 31st birthday, the same old qualms persist – that he simply makes too many errors for a player of his undoubted class. At his best, Ferdinand is the personification of measured assurance; at his worst he is guilty of slapdash overconfidence.
Capello knows Ferdinand is simply too good to discard with the World Cup finals just eight months away. When he is playing at his peak, he is the closest England have to the perfect modern defender; tall, athletic, and with the ability to turn defence into attack with a couple of touches of the ball.
The trouble is that he just has not been playing well. Ferdinand came into last night's game with his ears ringing after receiving a couple of verbal monsterings from Capello. What's more, the Italian decided to go public about his pep talks with Ferdinand, ensuring the Manchester United defender's ordeal would become one of the key issues ahead of last night's final qualifying match.
However, what he did not do was drop him. Capello made it clear he was unhappy, told everyone he was unhappy, but when the crunch came he gave Ferdinand another chance to redeem himself. Capello's loyalty contrasted with the way Ferdinand was treated under Sven Goran Eriksson, who dropped him for a World Cup qualifier against Austria in October 2005 only to recall him a month later.
A simple run-out against Belarus was the perfect opportunity he needed to show that Capello's words would be enough of a warning. The visitors did little to test the centre-half in the opening session, but when he was required he was there with the telling interception to nick possession. There were no spectacular blocks or last-gasp tackles, just little touches and headers to repel the visitors.
His distribution was also exemplary. Instead of trying something over-ambitious, Ferdinand chose to take the simple, no-risk route, passing along the back four instead of looking for something more eye-catching. Just what Capello would have wanted from a player who remains a key part of England's World Cup plans.
The England manager clearly wants Ferdinand and John Terry to spend more time together on the pitch, as they have both missed internationals through injury. Their understanding could be decisive in South Africa. This was only the third England game Ferdinand has started in the past 12 months, his appearances for the team having been limited by a long-standing back injury.
The other factor is a shortage of a serious alternative, as Matthew Upson's lack of experience at the highest level makes him something of a gamble.
With Ferdinand performing well, England looked a far more stable defence. Although there was a moment when Sergei Sosnovski broke free down the right and fired in a crisp half-volley that Ben Foster in the England goal did well to push around the post.
Glen Johnson was guilty on occasion of dwelling on the ball too long in defence, but the pace of his recovery ensured England were not embarrassed on this night when the national side celebrated its untroubled passage through the World Cup qualification process.Reuse content