Rio Ferdinand'S ban is only matched in the modern game by the eight-month suspension imposed upon Eric Cantona after he leapt into the crowd to attack a spectator at Selhurst Park in January 1995. Cantona, who also faced a jail sentence (he ultimately did community service) threatened to retire. It took the intervention of Sir Alex Ferguson, who flew to France to talk him round, to dissuade him.
At 25, Ferdinand is three years younger than Cantona was when he was banned, and he is unlikely to contemplate retirement, especially as United have been so supportive. He will, though, be devastated by this decision. Ferdinand is laid back but, as Ferguson said yesterday, "no one is unbreakable".
The ban rules him out of England's European Championship campaign and the second half of a season which promises much for United, who are well placed in the Premiership and Champions' League. When he does eventually return he will have to prove his form and fitness, physical and mental.
Since his situation became public, Ferdinand's performances has been impeccable but so, in similar circumstances - albeit utterly different charges - was Lee Bowyer's during his well publicised trial on charges of assault and affray. Though he was acquitted, Bowyer subsequently found it impossible to maintain his form.
He could, too, find his place for club and country hard to regain. Wes Brown, for both, and John Terry, for the latter, now have the chance to establish themselves. United also have the option of buying another centre-half, though with the appeals process stretching across the transfer window that might appear both disloyal and indicate a lack of belief in their case.
Ferdinand may settle the England issue himself by withdrawing from international football. This may seem extreme but England's leading footballers increasingly identify the national team with the FA, perhaps due to the latter's commercial growth, and wonder why they should represent a body which punishes them.
Not that sponsors will be rushing to Ferdinand's door for a while. His personal reputation had already suffered through this saga, with his character questioned. His past drink-driving ban and his involvement in videoed holiday "sexploits" have been regularly cited; his role in promoting reading among young people, and in appealing for witnesses in the Damilola Taylor case, which centred on his childhood neighbourhood, less often. Wise advisors would suggest Ferdinand either keeps a low profile during his absence, or becomes involved in similar good works.
Cantona, incidentally, returned to United's team on 1 October and equalised from the penalty spot in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. United went on to lift the double. However, the Frenchman never appeared again for his national team and played only one more full season before retiring to play beach football and occasional film roles.
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