After appearing to at first accept Roy Hodgson’s international recall, Rio Ferdinand has decided to pull out of the England squad for their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro because of what he calls his “intricate pre-planned programmes,” which he uses to keep fit for Manchester United.
Ferdinand has stressed that he has not retired from England duty, but his inability to adapt these fitness and medical programmes makes it very unlikely that he will play international football again and appears to be further evidence of the declining status of the England team.
It was Arsenal legend and French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira who recently expressed his belief that English players are losing interest in playing for the national team.
“When I grew up in France, I dreamed of playing for my country. I don’t think young players are dreaming of doing that any more in England,” Vieira said.
"I don’t understand why so many from the age of 16 to 21 pull out of national teams through injury. Maybe it’s the lack of FA ‘power’.”
In recent years, several England players have ruled themselves out of selection, including Paul Scholes, Ben Foster, Paul Robinson, Luke Young and Jamie Carragher (though he reversed it to play at the 2010 World Cup finals), and last year, Michael Carrick told the FA that while he hadn’t officially retired, he didn’t want to go to Euro 2012 as merely a peripheral squad player.
Has international football lost its allure for the modern-day player? I have asked Paul Scholes about the reasons for his retirement, and why he also rejected then-England manager Fabio Capello’s request for him to go to the 2010 World Cup finals.
“In the end, I didn’t want to go away from home for six weeks,” Scholes told me. “I finished with England because I wanted to spend as much of the summer with my family. It was tempting to come back for the World Cup, but my family was more important.
“When I was away with England at a World Cup or the European Championships, it felt too long, I never really enjoyed them. I enjoyed playing the actual games, but it was the bits in between I struggled with.”
“It just seems playing for England is a way to slag people off these days. I think there is probably too much pressure on everything to do with England, from the manager to the players.
“We’re expected to go to every World Cup and win, but I don’t know why. Just look at our record over the last 50 years, and we haven’t come close to winning the World Cup.”
For players wanting to prolong their careers as long as possible, the example of Scholes, as well as Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs, make a powerful argument for retiring early from international football, and it is something that Ferdinand would have pondered when he was called up to the England squad.
Scholes is still playing at the top aged 38, and he retired from England as long ago as 2004, while Ryan Giggs, who will still be playing for Manchester United when he turns 40 this year, only won 64 caps for Wales in 16 years due to his reluctance to play friendlies and retired altogether in 2007.
As Scholes alludes to, as well as helping you play for longer, amongst modern players, there is a feeling that they can do without the hassle of England; the long weeks away from their families, being part of a squad when you know you have no chance of playing and dealing with the unreasonable expectations of winning either the World Cup or the European Championships.
Last year, I asked former England captain Gary Lineker about Patrick Vieira’s comments and whether international football still mattered to English players.
“Players still want to play for England,” Lineker said. “You can see how much it meant to them at Euro 2012 this summer, they might not have played that well, but they tried their socks off. The World Cup is still the biggest stage where you can play in front of the whole world.”
While international football appears to be becoming less attractive to players, Lineker is also right. For the moment, it remains the best and only way to enshrine yourself as a national hero, but this hasn't stopped players walking away from the England squad.