Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand is adamant he can put his difficult relationship with England manager Roy Hodgson behind him, after the two men were named by Football Association chairman Greg Dyke as members of the commission to improve the England team.
Dyke secured a badly-needed breakthrough in his attempts to add a credible, high-profile voice from an ethnic minority background to his much-maligned panel, when he announced Ferdinand, 24 hours after a storm over the all-white, all-male composition of the group. Yet the notion of the 34-year-old sitting alongside the manager who effectively caused him to quit international football will raise searching questions about they can conceivably work together.
It will certainly be an extremely challenging moment for both men when they take up positions on the body which is due to assemble for the first time at an unspecified date in the next few weeks. Hodgson was the man who told members of the public on a Jubilee Line train last year that Ferdinand had reached “the end of the road” and selected John Terry ahead of him, after the Chelsea defender had racially abused Ferdinand’s brother.
However, sources close to Ferdinand insisted last night that there was no lingering animosity on his part and he was prepared to move forward. Ferdinand is understood to feel that turning down the FA was simply not an option, having been so vocal on how “the way some of our clubs treat the England team is a national disgrace,” as he put it recently.
His appointment – at the end of a weekend in which Dyke found himself accused by fellow FA board member Heather Rabbatts of ignoring her concerns about the lack of ethnic minorities on the panel – also raises questions about whether Ferdinand can maintain his focus at Manchester United, where he has been struggling with form and injury amid the club’s travails. Uncertainty about precisely how much time must be committed to a commission role had already caused a number of individuals working full-time in the game to turn Dyke down.
Dyke said “the need to be sure that Rio had the necessary time to fully participate on the commission and not impact on his day job” was the reason why his name had not been announced earlier. “It has been agreed he does [have the time,]” Dyke added.
Ferdinand’s presence will certainly earn Dyke some credibility amid football’s black and minority ethnic (BME) community, where he is liked and respected. But Dyke pointedly stated that it was Ferdinand’s experience as a footballer, rather than a footballer of ethnic extraction, which he considers most vital.
“It is important we do not lose sight of the commission’s main purpose. That is finding a way of delivering long-term success for the England men’s senior team,” he said, after the sport and equality minister Helen Grant added her name to Rabbatts’ criticism of the FA chairman’s initial commission appointees.
Ferdinand certainly has strong views about the damaging shift in football’s balance of power towards the Premier League, who have not been willing to be represented in the commission panel. The defender believes that the lack of English footballers playing regularly in the Premier League is damaging England at international level.
“If you look at it and ask whether there should be a stipulation that you have a minimum number of players who are English, even just in your squad, I think that should happen,” Ferdinand said recently. “If you look at a lot of teams, there are England players who aren’t playing for their clubs – yet we’re hoping to go to a World Cup and do well.”
Ferdinand said he was aware that quotas on English players cannot be imposed as they would contravene European Union laws on freedom of movement, though cited the Turkish system, where clubs can have a maximum of 10 foreign players on the books, and a maximum of six in an 18-man squad for each game.
The FA reiterated last night that Ferdinand’s appointment would have been made before this weekend’s row if the Roy Hodgson “monkey” joke controversy had not exploded last week. But a leading black footballer has told The Independent that Dyke’s extraordinary public row with Rabbatts means that the addition of an ethnic representative now smacks of tokenism.
The footballer said that the failure to “think through” the impression created by the initial list has confirmed to black and ethnic minority players that the concerns they voiced during last year’s Kick It Out T-shirt protest have not been heard or appreciated. “This mess proves what some of those who led the protest have said all along,” the player said.