James Lawton: Rush to the barricades over Rio is a little premature

Click to follow
The Independent Football

This is not the first time England footballers have rallied around their colleague Rio Ferdinand.

It seems that some of them are equipped with antennae of Geiger counter acuity when there is the merest hint that someone, somewhere has failed to acknowledge the full majesty of his meaning in the national game.

This time the Fabio Capello captaincy caper, in which Ferdinand appears to have lost out to the pardoned John Terry, has triggered the rage.

Though the chronically injured Manchester United player seemed to find the crisis somewhat less than disabling yesterday, when he was tweeting on the reported demise of rapper Nate Dogg and how much amusement his children get from soaking his funkiest clothes, one feverish source was telling The Sun, "There is a lot of sympathy out there for Rio. The players don't think he should have been treated like this."

One of the problems with this is it rather too vividly reminds us of the last time such a view flourished.

It was in Istanbul on the eve of a European qualifier with Turkey. What left the players aghast on that occasion was the decision of the Football Association to suspend Ferdinand from the national team on account of his being charged with failing to take a drugs test.

This draconian action was decided upon despite the fact that it had been carefully explained that Ferdinand had been distracted critically by having to move into a new mansion and needed to buy a few sticks of furniture and a few piles of linen.

Naturally, Rio's United team-mate Gary Neville came to the fore in all his indignation, even raising the possibility of a strike. Sven Goran Eriksson was in charge at the time and when he was asked his view on the situation some feared he might develop a hernia while getting on and off the fence.

Some will charge, not totally without reason, Capello with similar indecisiveness on this occasion. As someone who attended his briefing in a famous Knightsbridge Italian restaurant – the grilled halibut was especially fine – it is easy to confirm that the current manager did send out a number of mixed messages, none of which, though, seemed to justify some claims yesterday that this superbly successful (for most of his career) coach was making his predecessors Eriksson and Steve McClaren look like the last words in iron-fisted resolution.

What seemed most apparent was that Capello, who comes from a culture where the identity of the captain has never been a huge factor – no more than carrying weapons into the dressing room – was concerned that the issue mattered far more here than he had previously realised.

Ferdinand, who was treated with much sympathy and respect by the England team management last summer in South Africa when he broke down on the eve of the World Cup, has plainly sent out alarm messages with his recurring injury problems. Steven Gerrard, who was made No 2 in the wake of Terry's dismissal 13 months ago, has not impressed either Capello or his assistant Franco Baldini as a natural-born skipper.

Hence the resurrection of Terry, who was required to look on in Copenhagen recently when the arm-band eventually reached Gareth Barry by way of the air-gun enthusiast Ashley Cole.

Maybe Il Capo has lunged too carelessly at this problem for which he had no adequate preparation while winning all the major prizes on behalf of teams like Milan and Juventus and Real Madrid. This is unfortunate but for some reason it is hard to believe it justifies any rush to the barricades. Sorry, Rio.