Sam Wallace: Ferdinand return gives lift to England

It may yet be too early in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign to start experimenting with a three-man defence in the 3-5-2 system, but the return of Rio Ferdinand to play alongside John Terry against Macedonia tomorrow will give the England manager, Steve McClaren, extra reassurance. And Ferdinand's swift return from a bruised toe was put in perspective last week by a visit from one of England's long-term absentees.

Michael Owen dropped into the England team hotel in Manchester before they left for Skopje yesterday to pay his old comrades a visit, although it will be some time before the Newcastle United forward is back in serious action. His cruciate ligament injury at the World Cup finals, following a broken metatarsal on New Year's Eve, were a reminder that not every England player has the immediate opportunity to banish memories of Germany 2006.

Owen has hardly been mentioned in McClaren's bold new plans for the team - in fact, when David Beckham was pushed out by the new England manager, there was barely a mention of the fact that Steven Gerrard had supplanted Owen as the team's vice-captain. The role may only be a consolation prize for the Liverpool captain, but it also showed that Owen has fallen a few places lower down the order - the injury meant he was never even in the running to replace Beckham as captain.

As his team travelled yesterday without the injured Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland or Charlton's Luke Young, McClaren belatedly paid tribute to Owen, and made a public assurance that the 26-year-old would not be forgotten. The England manager has kept track of Owen's progress and the player will be in America this week for his second operation on the knee he injured so badly after less than a minute against Sweden in Cologne.

"I wish him all the best," McClaren said. "Michael came to have lunch with us in Manchester last week, and it was great for all of us to see him. He is a key player for us, so it's important that he stays involved while he is getting back to fitness. I am looking forward to having him back in the squad for good."

How Beckham would treasure an invitation like that, although there are no guarantees for Owen that he will ever be the certain first XI starter he was under Sven Goran Eriksson. Owen said himself yesterday that he hoped to combine his recovery with fitness work that would enable him to come back stronger, although there is no certainty he will play for England again before the home Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel on 8 September next year.

Ferdinand said yesterday he was ready to start against Macedonia after bruising his toe on the opening day of the Premiership season, an injury that was briefly regarded by Sir Alex Ferguson as another broken metatarsal scare. The 27-year-old, who will win his 54th cap tomorrow, said yesterday he had reconciled himself to the failings of the summer's World Cup.

"The World Cup is gone. I had all summer to mull it over, and what went wrong and what went right," Ferdinand said. "You look at yourself first and ask, 'What more could I have done personally to help the cause?' I had long enough to think about that World Cup. But now the season has started my focus is Manchester United and the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

"It is about forward thinking and I've also become a father, which has been brilliant. Obviously, football is in my blood and always will be, my life has always revolved around it. Now that I have a baby and a family my life will revolve around them - I'll enjoy balancing the two."

Ferdinand said that McClaren had laid out very clearly for the players the standards that he expected of them, and he would have noticed from the stands on Saturday that the England manager briefly switched to a three-man defensive line against Andorra. Against such lightweight opposition, it was a no-risk experiment but, given McClaren's fondness for the system with Middlesbrough, England may not have seen the last of the three-man defence.

It has been discussed between McClaren and his assistant Terry Venables, but they may test the three-man back line if the conditions favour it tomorrow night. Venables was the England coach who invited a 17-year-old Ferdinand to train with the Euro 1996 squad and, 10 years on, Ferdinand said that he had always held Venables "in high esteem".

For Kirkland, the back problems that have blighted the 25-year-old's career seem to have surfaced again, and he did not even travel south for yesterday's training session. Scott Carson is with the Under-21 squad in Switzerland and will act as back-up if necessary for Paul Robinson and Ben Foster. Young is also out with an ankle problem, but, apart from Ferdinand's inclusion ahead of Wes Brown, England should start unchanged from Saturday.

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness