He's Back! Rio Ferdinand recalled to the England squad after nearly two years away from the set-up
There is no doubting that the headline-grabbing news from England's squad announcement for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro was Roy Hodgson's inclusion of Rio Ferdinand, ending the Manchester United defender's spell of nearly two years in the international wilderness.
The call-up was something of a surprise, especially considering the fact that Hodgson himself had pretty much ruled out ever bringing Ferdinand back into the England fold. It was quite a turnaround in fortunes all in all.
1. Can Rio lead England to Rio?
At 34 years old, Rio Ferdinand is not exactly going to be England's future in the position for years to come. Right now, though, he is the best performing English centre-back in the country.
One negative of bringing Ferdinand back into the frame is that it suggests that Hodgson is not building for the future. On the one hand, building for the future is vitally important, but on the other hand, there is no value in blooding youngsters together for a tournament England may not even end up qualifying for if they lose to Montenegro later this month.
An England side with Rio Ferdinand is stronger than an England side without him, and in the short term that is all that matters. Ferdinand is currently keeping Smalling out of the starting lineup at club level, so surely then it is senseless to be picking Smalling ahead of his Manchester United counterpart at international level, regardless of the respective stages of their careers?
Whilst Ferdinand played 30 league games for United last season and has managed 21 thus far in this campaign, there do remain doubts over whether he has the capacity to play seven games in four weeks, as the World Cup fixture programme would dictate (although it is unlikely that England will play more than five).
England, as a football nation, have this fantastic ability to not learn from past mistakes.
The first (of many) debacles of their last World Cup campaign was Fabio Capello's decision to take the injury-prone Ledley King as a first-choice starter, after Rio Ferdinand (of all people) was injured before the tournament.
King then, inevitably, was injured during England's first game and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament, leaving Capello with the over-the-hill Jamie Carragher and the rankly average Matthew Upson as his remaining central defensive options. What happened next was something no England fan needs reminding of.
If they do qualify for the World Cup, Roy Hodgson will need to seriously consider whether they can afford to take a central defender who can not start two or three games in a week. Rio Ferdinand may be playing extremely well at the moment, but the amount of games he plays is very carefully measured by Sir Alex Ferguson and his medical staff.
However, regardless of the long term pitfalls, qualification is very much in the balance, and England, at this moment in time, need Rio Ferdinand at the heart of their defence.
2. Replacing Jack Wilshere
Considering Jack Wilshere has just seven England caps to his name, it is incredible how important he already is to his national team's style, set-up and future. Whether this is more to do with Wilshere's burgeoning talent, or the relatively small talent pool of English central midfielders is not for me to decide.
He is certainly England's most promising English midfielder since the emergence of one Steven Gerrard, and it is a massive blow to Roy Hodgson that he won't be available for the game against Montenegro.
His central-midfield berth will most likely go to Michael Carrick or Scott Parker. Carrick is having his best season in a United shirt, and Parker has been very impressive for Spurs since his return from a long injury lay-off.
There is also, dare I say it, the positively frightening possibility that Hodgson could revert to the infamous Gerrard-Lampard pivot, but let's all just pray that that doesn't happen. Just the thought of it makes me shiver slightly.
Hopefully Jack Wilshere will recover swiftly from this injury, have a good run-in with Arsenal, a decent rest this summer and hopefully return injury-free. It would be such a shame if another genuinely talented English footballer's career was ruined by injury.
3. Say no to Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe has no place in England's squad. He is an eternally underwhelming footballer, with little technical ability whatsoever.
He is not effective upfront on his own against top opposition, and is a waste of space when played alongside another striker, as he does not work hard enough or score enough goals to justify his position.
His link-up play is atrocious, and he shoots pretty much every time he gets the ball. He is arguably the worst England international in history to have managed over 50 caps for his country.
If Hodgson is only going to call up four strikers for his England squads, then you need a level of versatility and choice between your four options, some kind of differentiation between the players that you've called upon. You need four players that provide some alternatives.
Rooney will definitely start, with Danny Welbeck looking likely to as well somewhere along the front line. But then with half an hour to go, if Hodgson need to change things up, he has essentially left himself with two identical options on the bench in Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe—both of whom primarily provide direct running and a shoot-on-sight policy.
Andy Carroll should be selected ahead of Defoe. In his two appearances during last summer's European Championships, he was extremely effective.
He was excellent from the start against Sweden, getting on the scoresheet in the process, as well as having a good impact in the quarterfinal against Italy when he came on, holding up the ball very well at a time when England were dropping so deep they may as well have been sitting in the stand behind Joe Hart's goal.
Andy Carroll may have had a disappointing couple of years for Liverpool, but he has put in some excellent displays for West Ham this season. The goals may not have been freely flowing, but England started their last World Cup campaign with Emile Heskey upfront, so that really isn't an issue.
With Carroll, Hodgson's side possesses a physical alternative upfront, something an England side with limited technical ability desperately need. He is something different and would provide a better option than Defoe as an impact substitution, regardless of whether England need a goal with half an hour to go, or Hodgson is trying to hold onto a lead.
Other stray observations
It's nice to see Ben Foster back in the England side, if only for the reason that for the first time in a long time England have three goalkeepers in their squad who all actually start week in, week out for a top flight team.
It's also a shame for Stewart Downing that he has been left out, considering his form has actually been quite good lately. Especially considering he was picked for the Euros and other squads despite his club form being a total shambles.
UPDATE 18-03-13 15.10PM
This afternoon, Rio Ferdinand pulled out of the England squad to play San Marino and Montenegro as he has a pre-planned fitness program that he cannot interrupt. To some extent this breaking news highlights my point that he will surely be a liability to take to the World Cup next year (if England qualify of course) due to fitness concerns. But to a larger extent it makes me look a bit of an idiot for the title, and large parts, of this article.