'Shocked' Ferdinand puts his turbulent past behind him

Guaranteed his place in the team, playing for the club who are set to win another Premier League title, in the form of his life, respected by the rest of the squad and a natural communicator. Rio Ferdinand as captain of England would appear to be one of the simpler decisions presented to Fabio Capello.

Except for the baggage the 29-year-old central defender has carried. Ferdinand's career, his off-field behaviour at least, has, at times, been far less elegant than those Damier Canvas patterns, which is why he was quick to admit to his "shock" at having been selected to lead his country against France tonight.

The announcement by Capello came in typical formal surroundings, with the manager bringing the players to attention, at the Grove Hotel in Watford, yesterday as they had an early lunch before departing to Luton airport for their flight to Paris. "He stood up and told us, stopped everyone eating," Ferdinand said. "That was the first I'd heard about it."

The captaincy is something that Ferdinand has, nevertheless, coveted which, given his experience – he is set to win his 66th cap – and his ability is no surprise, although he has also privately admitted that his past might count against him. It was a relief for the central defender to hear from Capello that his worries were groundless. It is time to look forward.

"It's been made an important issue," Ferdinand said of the captaincy, which he admitted is not "set in stone" because of Capello's vowed intention to "rotate" it until England face the Czech Republic in August prior to the start of the World Cup qualification campaign. "A new manager comes in and everyone's on trial. This manager leads by example and is very certain on his ideas. On the training ground and in the hotel. We're on trial and we know that. The players who can't adjust to that or deal with it won't play.

"The captain needs to be able to go out there and perform at the highest level, play in the right way and perform in the right way on the field and in the hotel, around the place. But making it the be-all and end-all of an England squad or team defeats the purpose. It's more important to have 11 players out there, all leaders."

Which is also true. Except the captain, as Ferdinand knows better than most, sets the standard. He chose Roy Keane, not surprisingly, as the mano he would like to emulate. "Fantastic captain," Ferdinand said. "He led by example, played well, 7/10 8/10, 9/10 every game. Consistent. A man amongst men. If questions needed to be asked or answered, he was normally the one to answer them. He's symbolic of Manchester United."

It is a symbolism that Ferdinand would also like to follow. Given the frequency with which he has captained his club this season, and the doubts over whether Ryan Giggs will continue to play as much, and whether Gary Neville will play at all, it is possible that he will be confirmed as United's captain, too, from next season.

"If something needs to be said on or off the pitch I'm not afraid to say it, and [I want to lead] by example as well," Ferdinand said. "There are a lot of different facets to captaincy and different people bring different things. We'll see in time."

We will also see whether or not this is to be a one-off or a permanent fixture. The sense is that, although other candidates will be tried, the captaincy may be now Ferdinand's to lose. It would be a landmark moment as he would become the first black player to be handed the role on more than an irregular basis.

"It's the biggest honour that's happened to me," Ferdinand said. "How many people are named as England captain? Not many. To be on that list of illustrious players is a great achievement in itself. It's a cliché but, when you're a young kid, the dream of playing and captaining your country is at the forefront of your mind as you grow up. I'm able to live that dream now."