Rio Ferdinand has withdrawn from the England squad for two upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers. In doing so, the 34-year-old Manchester United defender has again cast doubt on his international future.
That's not to say that it's over. The fact that Ferdinand was in manager Roy Hodgson's squad at all proves otherwise. But one cannot help but think that this is—once again, admittedly—the beginning of the end.
Let's back up.
Last summer, Ferdinand's international career appeared to be over when Hodgson left Ferdinand out of England's Euro 2012 squad. Hodgson instead picked Chelsea's John Terry, citing "footballing reasons" (via The Guardian) for the decision.
Complicating the situation was Terry's ongoing trial over alleged racist comments towards Ferdinand's brother, Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand (who is now on loan with Bursaspor in Turkey).
"Rio Ferdinand for me is not a player that you call up as a substitute, or to cover for the players that you have," Hodgson said at the time.
Ferdinand responded angrily via Twitter, famously tweeting "What reasons?????!!" (via Daily Mail). In his official statements, he was more measured.
"You would have to say it might be over with England for me," Ferdinand said (via The Guardian). "If I'm not getting picked now, especially when people are out injured, then it's unlikely I will be picked again."
The same logic could apply now, although this time, it's Ferdinand who is responsible for his own omission.
Hodgson last week recalled Ferdinand to the England squad (via Daily Telegraph). Terry, who has battled injuries this season, was not selected. Had he stayed with the team, Ferdinand likely would have been in line for his 82nd international appearance and first since June 2011 against Switzerland.
Instead, Ferdinand withdrew, with fitness—though not an injury—cited as a concern. Tottenham Hotspur's Steven Caulker has taken his place.
BBC Sport reports:
The decision was taken following a meeting on Sunday with Ferdinand, 34, and England boss Roy Hodgson.
At the meeting, Ferdinand confirmed he wants to continue playing for England.
"I'm disappointed Rio will not be available, but due to the detailed medical programme he must follow it's not possible," said Hodgson.
This shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Last week, Hodgson reportedly took measures to reassure Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson that Ferdinand would be watched after on international duty.
The Sun reported that Hodgson was actively trying to "placate" Ferguson. In his remarks following Ferdinand's withdrawal, Hodgson said the decision had to do with Ferdinand's "detailed, pre-planned training programme."
After two years away from the squad, it's fair to wonder what damage Ferdinand might be doing to his international chances by pulling out of the team this week. Last week's call-up could be interpreted as a metaphorical olive branch from Hodgson to Ferdinand; now, the United defender has pulled out on his own.
Will Rio Ferdinand play again for England?
On the one hand, it could mean nothing. Hodgson hinted last week (via Daily Telegraph) that Ferdinand is in the mix for a spot on England's 2014 World Cup team, should the Three Lions qualify. But it's unlikely that Ferdinand's training program will be any less detailed next summer.
Then again, it's also unlikely that Hodgson, considering their bumpy history, will select a 35-year-old Ferdinand if others are available.
Ferdinand's England career might not be done after all, but neither does this feel like the dawn of a long-running second act.