Roy Hodgson gives Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand 'a nice surprise' with call up to the England squad

Manchester United defender earns first call up since June 2011

Rio Ferdinand has been called up to the England squad for the first time under manager Roy Hodgson.

The England boss included the Manchester United defender among his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro later this month.

The 34-year-old has not featured for the national side since June 2011, with Hodgson citing "football reasons" for his exclusion in the past.

Discussing the decision to call him up, Hodgson said: "I've been following him for quite a while now and must have seen United play for our five times in the last five weeks.

"He's playing well, his team are doing extremely well and this is the moment to select him because he deserves it on current form and hopefully he can help us win the next two matches because that's the most important thing.

"In the past I've chosen other players but at the moment I think Rio is the right man. If Rio Ferdinand is still playing in 2014 like he is now he is going to be major candidate for the squad."

Hosgson also revealed he did not tell Ferdinand ahead of today's official release of the squad, telling the media: "I preferred it to be a nice surprise. I didn't consider talking to him."

Ben Foster, who earlier this year announced he had ended his sabbatical from the national team, has also been called up to the England squad.

Ferdinand won the last of his 81 caps against Switzerland at Wembley in June 2011 in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

His call-up comes at a time when Phil Jagielka is sidelined with an ankle injury, Joleon Lescott has only a bit-part role at Manchester City and question marks hover over Gary Cahill's form.

Ferdinand, has been in outstanding form for Manchester United this season, and many were expecting a call up after Hodgson was seen in the stands for his team's Champions League tie against Real Madrid.

While Hodgson has cited "football reasons", it's been impossible for Ferdinand's omission not to be linked with John Terry.

Terry was picked for Euro 2012 while Ferdinand was not, at a time when the Chelsea captain was facing allegations of racially abusing Rio's brother Anton. Selecting the pair of them had the potential to cause problems in the England camp, and it was Terry who was chosen to remain.

There is also an issue between Ferdinand and Ashley Cole, who gave evidence on behalf of Terry during his trial. In retaliation, Ferdinand endorsed a tweet which referred to the Chelsea left-back as a 'choc-ice' - a phrase understood to mean someone who is black on the outside but white on the inside. Hodgson attempted to play down the significance of any rift.

"They were very good friends but we're talking about an England football team, not individuals," he said.

"I would expect the pair of them to do their job. I don't envisage any problems. If there are I'll deal with them and I'm hoping the long-term friendship will re-emerge and anything else will be forgotten."

Hodgson went on this afternoon to hint that Ferdinand could have a big role in this month's two World Cup qualifiers, both of which are away from home, before going on to suggest the United defender could have a part to play beyond then.

He said: "A player of Rio's calibre and also of Rio's age, you don't bring them into a squad as back-ups, you bring them into the squad or the team because you want them to make the team better, to give you a better chance of winning.

"So it wouldn't take too much guesswork to work out that he's in the squad in order to play rather than to make up the numbers.

"Like all players you select, you select them because you think they're capable of doing the job you want them to do. But who knows what the future holds? 2014 is still a long way off and if Rio is still going the way he is at the moment, in 2014 he is going to be a major candidate for the squad."

Foster made himself unavailable for his country towards the end of the 2010-11 campaign because of a back problem and other injury niggles.

Hodgson, who managed Foster last season when in charge at the Baggies, was unable to persuade him to make himself available for Euro 2012.

But he received a more positive response when again recently sounding out the 29-year-old.

Foster, Albion's player of the year last season, has again been in outstanding form in their push for a Europa League spot after signing a new five-year contract in the summer.

He won the last of his five England caps against France in November 2010 and will provide competition for Joe Hart.

Hodgson is currently without the services of injured Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy while Stoke's recent signing, Jack Butland, is likely to be required for European Under-21 Championship duty this summer.

Foster will also be reunited with goalkeeping coach, Dave Watson, whom he worked with during his spell at Birmingham.

The former Manchester United player spoke recently of his burning desire to play in a major tournament for England and is now clear of his past injury problems.

There are also recalls for Tottenham duo Michael Dawson and Scott Parker.

Defender Dawson won his fourth and final cap to date in a 2-0 win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in March 2011. He has been picked ahead of Lescott, who fails to make the squad.

"With Joleon Lescott playing so little football and Michael Dawson playing as he is I felt it was right to include him," said Hodgson.

Midfielder Parker, meanwhile, has not appeared since England's exit from Euro 2012 at the hands of Italy. He missed the early part of this season after having surgery on the Achilles problem.

Speaking today about his selections, Hodgson said: "There are some returning players or players that haven't worked with me so far. Scott Parker is back in the squad after not playing since the Euros. I am pleased to have those players with me and they're there on merit.

"Rio Ferdinand is the biggest name for you but Michael Dawson and Ben Foster are on good form and I'm looking forward to working with them."

One player missing from the squad is Jack Wilshere, who is out for three to four weeks. Hodgson admits it's a blow.

"With Jack Wilshere we understand the situation but it's unfortunate after he played so well in the last game against Brazil," said the England manager.

"It's a blow, no question. It's disappointing for Jack as well. He'd enjoyed a good spell of playing regularly after a long lay-off. He did well in a cameo appearance against Sweden and was man of the match against Brazil. Not to be able to use him is a major blow but these things happen. We've still got a strong squad and a good list of players and I'd expect someone to play equally as well."

England squad to face San Marino (22 March) and Montenegro (26 March):

Goalkeepers: Foster, Hart, Forster. Defenders: Baines, Cahill, Cole, Dawson, Ferdinand, Johnson, Smalling, Walker. Midfielders: Carrick, Cleverley, Gerrard, Lampard, Lennon, Milner, Osman, Parker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Young. Forwards: Defoe, Rooney, Sturridge, Welbeck.

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