James Lawton: England are the best in Europe – but only when it comes to controversy

For Ferdinand, match-fitness on tap has been rendered a dream by years of physical fragility

If we didn't have an England football controversy we would have to dream one or maybe mine for it. Or, as happened in the last day or two, accept one served on a silver platter and lavish on it all the old familiar fervour.

Boy do we do controversy. We do it as well as the Spanish create unforgettable skills and the Germans formidable efficiency and the French a streak of hauteur that threatens to re-emerge, on cue, when we face them in the European Championship next week.

We do not just do controversy, we worry it, we look for obscure nuances, we devote hundreds of man hours and – until Rio Ferdinand twittered his latest outrage, and his agent weighed in with another protest over the lack of respect granted his client – we might even have dredged more mileage out of the ludicrously marginal one surrounding Micah Richards.

This concerned the young and scarcely proven full-back's decision to turn down England stand-by duty because the wrong FA person picked up the phone to ask him.

He was apparently affronted to take a call from Stuart Pearce, who apart from being the Great Britain Olympic and England Under-21 manager, played for England 78 times at full-back. Unlike the offended Richards, Pearce became a fully paid-up international defender, but apparently it was an unbearable slight for Richards that England manager Roy Hodgson delegated the phone call.

Hodgson has yet to have his face superimposed on a turnip but yesterday he received a second bout of serious flaying over his decision to exclude Ferdinand for "football reasons" when everyone knew it was really about a lily-livered blurring of the real issue of a choice between the United player and John Terry.

But was it really? Hodgson insists not and if he has made any kind of serious mistake it surely came when he refused to elaborate either on his original decision or the reason why the thinly experienced Martin Kelly now replaces the latest injury victim, Gary Cahill, rather than the holder of 81 caps who is widely accepted as the most cultivated England defender since the late Bobby Moore.

The big problem, you have to believe, was that the England manager was so fearful of the controversy culture that he ran for the bushes when the subject was re-introduced at the time of Sunday's announcement.

What he should have done, of course, was attempt to put some flesh on the "football reasons" argument. It was, after all, not entirely unavailable.

Originally, he was armed with the public statement of Ferdinand's club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, that: "You play something like a game every four days at the Euros and Rio couldn't do that." The player made it clear that he quite bitterly resented Ferguson's intervention and certainly it was one underpinning Hodgson's decision to go with Terry. It was not, however, the only one.

If it was generally agreed that it had to be the case of either Terry or Ferdinand under the shadow of the former's impending trial on a charge of racially abusing the latter's brother Anton – and the Football Association considered it reason enough to risk the resignation of Fabio Capello when stripping Terry of the captaincy – there was hardly a case to claim that Hodgson had made the more politically expedient decision.

Some argued powerfully that if it was not appropriate for Terry to be captain nor was it that he should be a member of the squad. It is only logical to believe that if Hodgson had concurred, there would hardly have been convulsions among the FA hierarchy. Instead, he made his "football reasons only" argument.

It is one that even now is not without substance. Kelly was recalled after post-season work under Hodgson while Ferdinand, for whom match-fitness on tap has long been rendered a dream by the years of physical fragility that followed his brilliant performance in the 2002 World Cup, would have been required to break back into competitive mode after several weeks of angst-filled inactivity.

Yes, Ferdinand's achievements dwarf those of the young Liverpool player, but Hodgson had already made his decision about which of his veterans would be included alongside Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, a pairing which just happened to perform outstandingly against world champions Spain at Wembley.

In choosing Terry the manager could point to evidence other than the comments of Ferguson. Though the Chelsea player erred grievously in Barcelona when drawing a red card, and had some bad moments against the charging Andy Carroll, Hodgson could claim with some justification that he had made a major contribution to his club's dramatic revival.

Two years younger than Ferdinand, over the season he played six times more than his rival and scored seven goals against Ferdinand's none. Through 2010 onwards, Terry had played 15 times for England, Ferdinand five. Of course, the argument now is not Ferdinand or Terry but Ferdinand or Kelly? In a simple test of relative ability, it is maybe not a serious argument – but then when last did such basic options present themselves to a manager of England?

Hodgson no doubt shouldn't have run from the latest questions, not least because he had an argument to make despite all the potential for fresh controversy a week before the start of a major tournament. He should have laid it all on the line and out in the open and let it fall where it might. An old pro once said that nothing was more sensational than the truth. One day an England manager might have the nerve to give it a try.

Murray may learn drama of winning

Virginia Wade's charge that Andy Murray is a "drama queen" may have been a gratuitous insult from the former Wimbledon champion to Britain's best player since the formidable Fred Perry. But, who knows, it may have hit a nerve in a way that might just concentrate the mind of a player who doesn't always seem to be utterly in charge of himself.

Also of some help may have been the impressively dogged demeanour of Novak Djokovic while emerging from the crisis imposed by Italian AndreasSeppi on what promised to be the day of his tennis life at the French Open. Though invited to disintegrate, the world No 1 acknowledged sublime work by his opponent on the way to a two-set deficit. Then, dispersing the pressure which has been building for some time according to the cognoscenti, he did what great champions do. He got hold of himself and went for the upstart's throat.

From the Serb, Murray might note, there is just one recurring drama. It is of a superb player finding a way to win.

New Hazard to prudence

Among Chelsea's achievements over the past few weeks there is one they might be reluctant to acknowledge, especially under the growing shadow of Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations.

It is the possibility that they have created the ultimate example of football inflation with the cost of firing Andre Villas-Boas and hiring Eden Hazard.

The cost of the Villas-Boas misadventure is reckoned to be £32m. When you add this to the projected bill for Hazard, who scarcely brought Wembley to its feet on Saturday, Chelsea are looking at a combined outlay of more than £100m.

Let's hope Hazard offers more value than AVB for the pious hope that football hasn't gone utterly and shamelessly mad.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital