Glenn Moore: Ferdinand blow cruel timing for a player who had come of age

England captain had put chequered past behind him and taken new responsibilities in his stride

Saturday 05 June 2010 00:00

The cruel, capricious nature of sport. Days after he admitted, with a degree of reluctance, that he had begun to think about being the first Englishman since Bobby Moore to lift aloft the World Cup, Rio Ferdinand's tournament looks to be over before it has started.

It is a grievous blow for Fabio Capello, and a devastating one for the player. After some mis-steps in his early years Ferdinand has matured into a man and player who would have been expected to have played a major role for England in the finals. At 31 he could be around for 2014 in Brazil, but given his chronic back injury that is by no means certain. Like David Beckham, another injury victim, he seems unlikely now to emulate Sir Bobby Charlton and be involved in four World Cups.

Having realised, after being dropped from the 2000 European Championship finals, that he needed to work harder at his game, and be more professional in his lifestyle, Ferdinand has been a fixture in the England team largely fulfilling the confident predictions that were made for him as a precocious teenager coming through West Ham's fabled academy.

Originally an attacking midfielder he was converted to an elegant central defender, one who was unusually comfortable on the ball. That was obvious when he made his international debut as a teenager in 1997. Bringing the ball out of defence with aplomb it seemed England had unearthed their own Franz Beckenbauer.

That never quite came to pass as successive managers, with club and country, asked him to curtail his attacking instincts in the service of the team. He did as ordered but there were still times when the game seemed too easy, and his concentration lapsed. With experience these incidents have become rare and besides, he has always been a big occasion player, having excellent World Cups in 2002 and 2006.

At club level he progressed from West Ham United, to Leeds United (moving for £18m in 2000), then Manchester United (in 2002, for a fee which eventually totalled £33m). Each time he settled quickly, adapting easily to the step-up in expectations. Leeds were then in their 'chasing the dream' phase and Ferdinand was part of the team that went to the Champions League semi-finals. At United he went further, winning one European final and reaching another, as well as collecting four Premier League championship medals.

Off the field he also grew up. He needed to. His England debut was delayed after he was dropped from the squad having been arrested and charged with drink-driving. After missing out on Euro 2000 he was one of the players involved in the notorious Ayia Napa sex video. Three years later he 'forgot' to take a drugs test and was banned by the FA for eight months, which meant he missed the 2004 European Championships.

There were also a series of speeding offences and a long drawn-out contract dispute with United which did not endear him to the club's fans. The TV programme, Rio's World Cup wind-ups, prior to the 2006 finals did nothing to dispel a growing reputation as a lightweight. However, he has been an impressive role model in recent years.

Ferdinand grew up on the same Peckham council estate in which Damilola Taylor was murdered in 2000, and was at school with Stephen Lawrence, the teenage victim of a racially-motivated killing in 1993. Keen to put something back into the community he came from he has contributed to child literacy schemes and projects to reduce gang and knife crime, putting the case for such initiatives to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown among others.

His rehabilitation was capped in February when he was named captain after Capello stripped the errant John Terry of the honour. Of mixed-race he became England's first non-white captain to be appointed on a long-term basis; not that he, nor anyone else, made much comment at the time, such is the multi-racial nature of football.Ferdinand has been an eloquent captain, deliberately promoting a low-key 'realism' approach to England's prospects. Such caution is now more justified than ever.

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