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Manchester United: Why Roy Hodgson Is Treading a Fine Line over Rio Ferdinand

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Manchester United: Why Roy Hodgson Is Treading a Fine Line over Rio Ferdinand
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Rio Ferdinand has been recalled to the England squad after almost two years away.

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand will link up with the England squad this week for the first time since June 2011.

It is hardly a surprising move, considering national manager Roy Hodgson has lost the services of John Terry to international retirement, Phil Jagielka's ankle injury and the fact Joleon Lescott is not playing regularly for Manchester City this season.

Ferdinand is enjoying an Indian summer to his career, gracing the Champions League with some impressive displays while also helping United to a 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

The decision to reinstate the 34-year-old to the international setup for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro was, as Hodgson rightly put it, "a no-brainer."

But has there ever been so much coverage and politicking over the reinstatement of a veteran defender to the England squad before?

The issue between Ferdinand and Terry has been well documented previously, as have the supposed "football reasons" for the United player's non-inclusion for England since his last cap, earned against Switzerland in June 2011.

Hodgson, of course, did not help his cause when he spoke indiscreetly with a member of the public on a London Tube train heading for Arsenal's Champions League fixture against Olympiakos in October.

The England manager subsequently apologised (BBC Sport), but his reported overheard comment to the passenger that "I think we are going to look to the future," when quizzed about Ferdinand's future, is perfectly valid for a national boss with a contract running up until the 2016 European Championships.

It would be fair to say that England have not fully impressed in their World Cup Group H qualification campaign to date, with two wins and two draws from their opening four games, including a 1-1 scoreline against second-bottom Ukraine.

And while the forthcoming match against San Marino should offer little trouble for England, the trip to Podgorica for the game against group leaders Montenegro could be a defining one for Hodgson.

Last month, Ferdinand told BBC Radio 5 he would "pack my bags and go straight there" if he was selected for England again.

However, The Sun reported on Sunday that Ferdinand had ignored Hodgson's phone call on Friday, while United manager Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his surprise that the defender had been included in the squad (The Guardian).

After the win over Reading on Saturday, the Old Trafford boss confirmed the 34-year-old will link up with the national squad tomorrow, but isn't this all a little unseemly ahead of crucial England matches?

Ferguson, of course, has his own job to do at Old Trafford, and ensuring his squad are fit and prepared for matches ahead is his prerogative, and rightly so.

The United boss did not appear to give off a sense of joy over Ferdinand's recall to the international arena as he cautioned that the club's medical staff would need to assess if the player's training regime, designed to offset a back problem, could be incorporated into the England camp.

Hodgson and the Football Association recognise that United and Ferguson provide a great number of England internationals, will continue to do so and have to dance to the Scot's tune when it comes to selecting Old Trafford players.

However, if Ferdinand is kept out of Friday's game against San Marino and is handed a starting place against Montenegro four days later, what message would that send out to central defenders such as Chris Smalling and Michael Dawson?

The problem for Hodgson is that he is treading too fine a line, but that is nothing new in the former Liverpool and West Brom manager's England career to date.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was incensed when he felt the England boss had broken an understanding about Jack Wilshere's involvement in the friendly against Brazil last month, as The Sun reported.

After the win over Brazil last month, Hodgson became uncomfortable with the questioning over a possible Ferdinand recall, as The Sun reported. His agitation was legitimate in the wake of England's fine win over the South Americans.

Hodgson's decision to keep his cards close to his chest ahead of Thursday's squad announcement, consequently, was understandable.

There is no denying Ferdinand deserves his England recall and opportunity to add to his 81 caps. He remains a great player with positional sense and the ability to bring the ball out of defence.

But any hopes of maintaining his place for the 2014 World Cup should be dependent on form, not his club manager's reluctance to release him.

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