James Lawton: England manager Roy Hodgson gets credit in bank for being brave and decisive over Euro 2012 selections
The new England manager was, as he had to be, relentless in his argument over Ferdinand's fitness
For a man who must have felt these last few days like someone turning out his pockets in the hope of finding a little loose change, England manager Roy Hodgson put on a brave face yesterday. Better still, he gave the distinct impression that he was in charge of both himself and a European Championship squad which, frankly, looks barely competitive.
It cannot have been easy, and the result is not exactly free of contention, but Hodgson may just have sanitised the problem which once again threatened to drag England not just into the column of the losers but also the most deeply dysfunctional of those football nations who like to think they belong in the front rank.
In announcing what is effectively the end of Rio Ferdinand's international career, and the latest decision by a football man of great experience that in competitive terms John Terry might just be worth all the trouble, Hodgson was obliged to insist that his approach to the issue which led to Fabio Capello's defection had been based entirely on football considerations.
Not everyone was prepared to go along with this, and least of all Ferdinand's camp, but Hodgson was unswerving.
He pointed out that Ferdinand has played just once for England in the last year and that if Terry's red card in Barcelona was a disaster it was still true he had made a significant contribution to Chelsea's extraordinary recovery in the later stages of the season (notwithstanding, of course, a less than awe-inspiring last outing against Liverpool).
Hodgson was, as he had to be, quite relentless in his argument that concerns over whether Ferdinand was strong enough to get through the demands of group play in a major tournament (which have also been expressed by his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson) had proved too strong. England is not so rich in world-class talent that the loss of a player of Ferdinand's quality can be dismissed lightly.
After 81 caps and a World Cup performance of such undiluted excellence in 2002 that it has been a constantly haunting backdrop to a career bedevilled by recurring frailty, Ferdinand has plenty of reasons to be sad. However, Hodgson's job – as he made admirably clear yesterday – is to provide himself with the most reliable range of options.
So, with injury to Kyle Walker, Ferdinand's team-mate Phil Jones makes it into the squad partly because of his ability to play at full-back and in the centre of defence. Hodgson, reasonably enough, pointed out that in Wayne Rooney he is already guaranteed a player who will miss two games.
In such difficulties, which were always going to be compounded by the absence of Jack Wilshere, the one English player of recent vintage who offered the sure-fire contribution of competitive maturity and genuine creative impulse, Hodgson has been obliged not so much to pick a squad as paper over the cracks.
Yesterday's evidence was that he had at least put into the margins the possibility of another wrenching episode of civil war in the dressing room. Steven Gerrard may have been a less than magisterial captain in South Africa two years ago but he is by some distance the safest choice for the captaincy of such an unformed team. Still he retains the capacity to inspire on the back of his own efforts. If his vision is sometimes faulty, his competitive heart is almost invariably in the right place.
Elsewhere the debates will crackle on. Admirers of Peter Crouch will no doubt dispute the justice of his exclusion, an argument wittily strengthened by the aside of Paul Merson yesterday when he said, "It is true Andy Carroll has shown a lot of improvement in the last month – but we did start in August."
Crouch does of course have an impressive record with England and his form for Stoke City has been consistently impressive. But then Hodgson did not get his job to confirm the weight of one consensus or another. He is there to follow his instincts and make judgments based on his experience, and yesterday we saw the consequences.
Crouch and Aaron Lennon were said to be the principal victims and Carroll and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the men who have benefited most from mere bursts of excellence. Yet Hodgson stood his ground with the force you might expect from an old pro.
Oxlade-Chamberlain showed him something for Arsenal against Milan in the Champions League that spoke of an ability to come to a new level of performance at a time of maximum pressure. It was a similar impact by Carroll, when he came so close to turning around the FA Cup final for Liverpool and, who knows, saving the job of Kenny Dalglish that was taken away yesterday.
Hodgson suspects that both young players may have found the kind of impetus which changes games. They are, like the one on the ill-starred brilliance of Rio Ferdinand, big calls, but sooner or later they always have to be made.
Itinerary: England's schedule for the next month
23 May Squad, minus Wayne Rooney and players from Chelsea, assemble in Manchester, staying at the Lowry Hotel. Training takes place at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium.
24 May Further training at the Etihad.
25 May Squad flies to Oslo for England's penultimate friendly, against Norway.
26 May Norway v England.
27-28 May Players given time off to be with their families.
29 May The deadline for final squads to be registered with Uefa. Players reconvene at Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, joined by Rooney and four Chelsea players including Daniel Sturridge (on stand by). Training at Arsenal's London Colney HQ.
2 June Belgium visit Wembley for England's final pre-tournament friendly.
3-4 June Players time off with families.
5 June Squad reconvenes at Grove Hotel.
6 June Roy Hodgson, his back-room staff and players fly to Krakow, Poland – their base for at least the group stages of the tournament.
11 June Hodgson's first competitive game: England take on France in their opening Group D match in Donetsk.
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