Monday, 11 June 2012

A Critique of Pure Footballing Reasons

There is something truly rotten about Rio Ferdinand's exclusion from the England squad which reminds me of phone-hacking scandal as it is played out in Leveson inquiry. You can imagine a similar inquiry being launched post-tournament: a similar parade of faceless FA apparatchiks would materialize, Hodgson and Bernstein would comb their curiously blank diaries and emails, rack their abruptly empty memories... and nothing would be revealed...

I'm not a huge Ferdinand fan – and I'm certainly not a Manchester United fan, but the case for taking him seems fairly watertight to me. Vastly experienced, not at his physical peak any more, but reads the game brilliantly, can pass and play the ball out from the back...

Instead the thinking seems to have gone like this: Terry must be presumed innocent, and therefore the impending court case cannot be allowed to impinge on his selection. How noble! And why after all should the case be pre-judged? Why should be punished with exclusion, if, as is both legally and logically correct, he is for now, innocent? 

Next, presumption 2:  Terry and Ferdinand cannot be expected to play in the same team. So, which, on this even playing field, does Hodgson prefer? Terry. Hodgson has never trusted centrebacks who might be described as cultured, or prone to passing the ball out from the back, or carrying the ball into midfield – a recent example would be his ostracization of Dan Agger at Liverpool.

So Terry is in, Ferdinand out. And you are left with the grotesque spectacle of player being excluded from the squad because his brother was allegedly racially abused and his alleged abuser must not be pre-judged... and punished with exclusion.

One brief thought experiment: England return from the tournament, whether as sorry husks discarded at the group stage, or having triumphantly Rehhagel-ed their way to a 1-0 win over Germany in the final. Shortly after, John Terry is tried and found guilty. Either way the failure becomes more ignominious or the victory is tainted. Either way the FA, by their inaction, have brought the game into disrepute. It's not even as if they're bound by precedent: in fact they're going against precedent, in that Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate were both suspended form England consideration while on trial for assault.

Ferdinand hasn't mentioned it, but there's a strange irony in the fact that he misses Euro 2012 to preserve the presumed-innocent John Terry's place at it. Ferdinand missed Euro 2004 because he was serving a suspension for missing a drugs test. Not failing -- missing -- a drugs test: missed drugs test carrying not presumed-innocence but presumed-guilt.

Hodgson's get-out here is that he may really have made a decision based on 'football reasons'. As mentioned, Rio's style doesn't match Hodgson's model defender, which would a be a safety-first stopper.

Soooo, why not mention them?

Why not explain that he wants a different balance of left/right footed players, or wants to emphasize pace to enable a high line (he doesn't, or he'd have picked Micah Richards, and he played a line so deep at Liverpool it was much like a team curling into a foetal ball to protect its vital organs)? That he wanted to reproduce a club partnership by playing Cahill with Terry? Or detail any doubts about Ferdinand's injury record (even though RF wouldn't need to play in every game?)

The give-away for me, the proof that Hodgson has left out Ferdinand because of the Terry case, is that the only detailed 'football' reasoning he's offered is absolute disingenuous bollocks.

"Rio Ferdinand for me is not a player that you call up as a substitute, or to cover for the players that you have... We turned to Martin Kelly because I knew he was going to be someone who would be very useful to us. He's very happy to be here knowing that his chances of playing a big part in the tournament are quite small. You don't turn to people like Rio Ferdinand for that."

So, Ferdinand is... too good to be picked. OK? Because he's so good, so esteemed, so venerable, you wouldn't involve him unless as a starter... Even though the player in question has a) personally informed you he's fine to be in the same team as Terry and b) to travel as a squad player... Because every other squad in the world operates that way: a clear first XI plus a shadow, inferior 3rd XI to come in for injured players, and outside the squad all those players good enough to challenge the first XI, but who would be insulted by inclusion.

In this Lewis Carroll world of inverted logic, Hodgson is actually arguing that it would have been an insult to pick Ferdinand. Perhaps the most insulting thing of all is that he expects the player to believe that.

1 comment:

  1. 'A Critique Of Pure Football Reasons' is an ideal book title... better get onto Zero... I wish Hodgson had just come out and said: "I didn't want Ferdinand sniffing around, pulling media strings, questioning my judgement; he's too high profile to be able to sit and just watch (let's face it, even Carrick thought he was too high profile..." - at least that would be honest...