Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday welcomed the fact that Rio Ferdinand is unlikely to play for his country again, saying it would benefit both the 33-year-old defender and Manchester United.
Perhaps because he counts Roy Hodgson as a friend, Ferguson would not be drawn on what he thought of Ferdinand hearing that his international career was probably done via a conversation between the England manager and a passenger on the London Underground.
Nevertheless, the example of Paul Scholes, who is still playing eight years after retiring from international football, is an obvious one for Ferdinand to follow.
"I am happy because I think that at his age, Rio should be protecting himself as best he can," said the United manager. "Hopefully, by doing that, he will be far more important to me than to England." Harry Redknapp, his manager at West Ham, argued that not only did Ferdinand not need the "aggro" of playing for England; it might ensure another two years at the top.
Tomorrow, Ferdinand is likely to be part of a United defence that, already threadbare through injury, has been badly stretched in the early part of the season. If United lose at Newcastle, as they did last season, they will have suffered three defeats in their opening seven fixtures and no team has overcome that kind of start to win the Premier League.
St James' Park has, however, been a venue at which Wayne Rooney has excelled and tomorrow's game should continue the pairing with Robin van Persie that proved decisive in Tuesday's Champions League win in Cluj. Ferguson argued United would need both to be at their best if they are to regain the title. "In my experience you need two strikers who are going to get you 20 goals a season each," he said. "If you have that, then you have a really good chance of the title."
United's weak defence: St James' Park jinx
* Manchester United have struggled in defence so a trip to Newcastle, where they have kept just four clean sheets in their last 19 visits, could trouble them. They have conceded first in six of nine matches this season, though have recovered to win in four of those.
* MU victories after conceding first
25 Aug Fulham (h) PL Won 3-2
2 Sep So'ton (a) PL Won 3-2
23 Sep Liverpool (a) PL Won 2-1
2 Oct FCR Cluj (a) CL Won 2-1