In a sport obsessed with cars – and the variety that come with tinted windows and chauffeurs – there is something reassuring about an England manager in 2012 who takes the Tube, just as the late Alf Ramsey once did on a daily basis from Liverpool Street to Lancaster Gate. On Wednesday, however, Roy Hodgson discovered another harsh reality about his new job.
He learned there is no scope for unguarded conversations when you are England manager and that every casual pronouncement takes on significance. Unlike Hodgson, Ramsey did not have to worry about camera phones or Twitter on his commute from Ipswich to the Football Association's Lancaster Gate headquarters. Whatever his indiscretion it was an excruciating position to be placed in.
Hodgson's confirmation to Tube passengers on Wednesday that Rio Ferdinand had been omitted from his England squad found its way into yesterday's newspapers where it was followed up in its original form by The Independent. It was an intriguing scoop by the Daily Mirror although it was also hard not to feel sympathy for Hodgson yesterday when he was forced to apologise for any upset he might have caused to Ferdinand.
In his Tube carriage, Hodgson had simply been trying to answer a question from a fellow passenger about Ferdinand and had said too much. "It's a mistake and I need to apologise for that," he said. "This is one of the hazards, I suppose, of travelling on Tube trains when you go up to London – which is the best way for me to travel – and then of course speaking to people who ask me questions rather than sitting there tight-lipped, refusing to ever open my mouth. I've paid for it.
"I shall learn in future and maybe this will be a lesson for all the people who see me on the Tube in future: please don't be too offended if I refuse to answer any questions you ask me."
If that last part sounded a little po-faced, it was not intended to – Hodgson was simply laying down a marker. He has tried hard to engage with supporters, especially in Krakow during the European Championship, and he is a personable man. But he knows the limits now. As a little reminder of the pitfalls, this was hardly the worst thing that could have happened to him. One only needs to recall Sven Goran Eriksson's "fake sheikh" episode to know that.
It is worth pointing out that for all the suggestions that Harry Redknapp would be too much of a loose cannon for the FA when they picked Fabio Capello's successor this year, Hodgson is, for those of us who have not covered his career closely before, extremely outspoken. Even so far in his time in charge of England he had been blunt on subjects such as Theo Walcott's progress or the tricky logistics of a World Cup in Brazil.
As an individual who has been in his fair share of scrapes down the years one can only assume that Ferdinand will not take it too personally. He is undoubtedly aggrieved at being left out of the England squad, and certain voices have even hinted at a conspiracy to do with his brother Anton's involvement in John Terry's criminal trial on charges of racial abuse and the subsequent FA charge.
The precise nature of Rio's feelings on his treatment by Hodgson, however, are not known. There have been plenty of strong opinions on the situation that claim to reflect the Manchester United defender's but, give or take a few ambiguous tweets, the man himself has remained quiet on the subject. Until he does place his view on the record, it is hard to have that debate.
Hodgson might be derided for his "football reasons" explanation for omitting Ferdinand but he was very clear yesterday that he did not want to take players in their mid-30s to Brazil – providing England qualify – simply to sit on the bench. His policy might be challenged in the case of Frank Lampard, who is six months older than Ferdinand. For now, Hodgson is, in his own words "sticking to my guns".
"I am staying with the players I selected for the Euros," he said. "I am looking to the future. It is not for me to call time on anyone's career. I would never dream of calling time on anyone's career. It is up to an individual player to decide when he is not selected if he doesn't want to play any more. When I speak to Rio, I will make that very clear to him. It is up to him to decide the day when he no longer wants to be an England player."
In the meantime, Hodgson has a World Cup finals to qualify for and after two points dropped at home against Ukraine, he needs the full six from the two matches coming up over the next 11 days. That should not be a problem against San Marino on Friday, given that the republic is rated last out of 53 in Europe and has zero Fifa ranking points – the test comes against Poland in Warsaw a week on Tuesday.
The obvious deficit is among his central defenders where his decision not to pick Ferdinand, and Terry's international retirement have left him short. He has picked Ryan Shawcross in this squad but also hinted that Michael Carrick could be involved as a centre-back which is an interesting role for a man who has never found his niche at international level.
The call-ups for Fraser Forster and Kieran Gibbs demonstrate Hodgson's desire to look to the future and it looks as if Carl Jenkinson will get a first cap before the end of the year. It might have been an awkward 48 hours for the England manager but nothing that six points from his next two qualifiers will not solve.
England's new keeper Forster is as tall as Crouch
Like England's first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart, the new call-up to the England squad Fraser Forster was playing Champions League football this week although it has taken rather longer for him to gain recognition at international level.
Forster, 24, was part of the Celtic team that beat Spartak Moscow 3-2 in Russia on Tuesday night, having finally joined the club on a permanent transfer this summer. Before then he had been on loan for two seasons, the last step in a long journey to establish himself as a first-choice goalkeeper that began in the academy at Newcastle United.
Forster, whose father is the judge Brian Forster QC, comes from a great tradition of Geordie footballers, having played for Wallsend Boys Club, the alma mater of Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick among others. He joined Newcastle's academy but never played for the first team, going on loan to Stockport County, Bristol Rovers, Norwich City and then Celtic two years ago.
"Forster we know a lot about him, but we haven't seen a lot of him close hand," Roy Hodgson said. "The Under-21s have important games [the European Championship qualifying double-header against Serbia], so in discussion with Stuart Pearce, we decided we'd let Jack Butland play in that game."
The challenge for Forster, who at 6ft 7in is as tall as Peter Crouch, will be to prove that he is a betteroption in the future than John Ruddy, but he will be under no illusion that he remains some distance off his first cap.
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