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Ferdinand pulls out of England squad

Rio Ferdinand’s return to the England squad has turned out to be a non-event. After mulling over Roy Hodgson’s call-up, and no doubt after absorbing plenty of Glaswegian "advice" from his club manager Alex Ferguson, Ferdinand has told the England boss that he can’t make it.

It’s a decision ostensibly based on the complex "fitness management" regime that Ferdinand has adopted in the hopes of extending his career. It sit a little uneasily next to his previous proclamations about his pride in representing his country and his willingness to return to international football.

England’s need is rather pressing, with Hodgson very short on experienced defenders due to injuries and withdrawals ahead of two vital World Cup qualifiers. Hodgson had even offered the compromise of Ferdinand playing in just one of the qualifiers, against Montenegro.

If Hodgson has been very diplomatic, the most persuasive voice in the whole affair has been Sir Alex Ferguson’s. Initially he had doubted that Ferdinand would be available. When it became apparent that the player was not willing to reject the England offer, Ferguson had said, through gritted teeth, that Ferdinand would join up. The outcome of the player’s conversation with the England manager on the Monday indicated that Ferguson’s views were rather more important to Ferdinand than the opportunity to pull on a white shirt.

It is the latest example of Ferguson and Manchester United treating England duty as an irritant that distracts from the serious business of club football. Ferguson has fallen out with a succession of England managers over their demands on United players.

Ferdinand has made it clear that he wants to be considered for future England squads, although the unspoken proviso seems to be that Ferguson gives him permission. Hodgson would be entitled to be unimpressed by that partial commitment. If a weakened England defence struggles against Montenegro, Ferdinand’s decision to stay at home might turn out to be his last word on a lengthy international career.

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