England: The Only Winner in Rio Ferdinand Selection Saga Is Sir Alex Ferguson

Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 25, 2013

Sir Alex Ferguson can reap the benefit of Rio Ferdinand's withdrawal from the England squad.
Sir Alex Ferguson can reap the benefit of Rio Ferdinand's withdrawal from the England squad.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It went on for several days, but, ultimately, there really was only one winner. And, as usual, it was Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

Defender Rio Ferdinand had not been selected for an England squad since 2011, but finally got his chance last week when Roy Hodgson opted to recall the 34-year-old for the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.

The former Leeds and West Ham centre-half had been in impressive form for the Old Trafford club this season, and, after a raft of selection dilemmas at the back, the England boss admitted Ferdinand's return to the international fold was a "no-brainer" (via BBC Sport).

Hodgson, though, had not reckoned on Ferdinand being under a training regime at United to offset a back problem, which could not be adapted in time to prepare for England's qualifying matches.

Consequently, Ferdinand, who had claimed only last month he would "pack his bags" if England called (BBC Sport), met with Hodgson to tell him he would have to withdraw from the squad (via The Guardian).

Hodgson assured the defender he still had a future with England despite the late withdrawal, but Ferdinand then followed that up with an exercise in public relations catastrophe.

Ferdinand packed his bags and traveled to Qatar to work as an analyst on England's 8-0 win over San Marino on Friday for Al Jazeera television. The England supporters who had traveled to the San Marino game left nobody in any doubt as to their views on Ferdinand as they voiced their opinions from the terraces throughout the match.

Before and after the game, Hodgson kept his counsel on the chants (via The Independent and Sky Sports), but it is inconceivable that the England manager would want to be placed in such a situation again.

And whether Ferdinand would be welcomed back to the international fold by the supporters is a further issue to complicate what should have been a comfortable experience for everyone in San Marino.

Nobody could blame Ferdinand for considering his future career by working as a pundit, but the timing on this occasion was way off the mark. And how was it that the England backroom staff did not know the central defender was training under such a strict regime which could hamper his selection for international matches?

All that matters little now, but the whole scenario does have comparisons with another (even more infamous) matter in the respective histories of Manchester United and England.

During the 1998 World Cup Finals, then-United midfielder David Beckham was sent off during the last-16 clash against Argentina in Saint-Etienne for aiming a petulant kick at Diego Simeone while he was lying on the floor.

As a result, 10-man England held on for a 2-2 draw, but lost on penalties and Beckham returned home to find himself as a hate figure for opposition supporters (Daily Express).

However, during the following 1998-99 campaign, Beckham harnessed the negativity from opposition supporters across the country and turned it to his and United's advantage.

The midfielder played out of his skin as he helped United and Ferguson complete a remarkable treble of FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League trophies. Beckham was 23 years old at the time of that dismissal, but grew to become an icon of English football with his displays for club and, most importantly, country.

At 34 years old, Ferdinand does not have the time to complete a similar turnaround in fortunes, but he does appear to have the support of Ferguson.

The player's television trip to Doha might have been pre-arranged before his selection, but Ferguson has seen this situation before and few people are better placed than the United boss to build his player's psychology into a siege mentality.

United already has one hand on the Premier League title with a 15-point advantage, but Ferdinand also has the added incentive of playing for another contract at the club with his current deal expiring in the summer (The Guardian).

His decision to withdraw from the England squad, effectively putting club before country, will also strengthen his negotiating position while Ferguson reaps the benefit of a player who is unlikely to play for his country again.

Nobody could accuse the Scot of being anti-England after producing so many international stars for the country, including six in the current squad in Montenegro.

But with high-profile names such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs prolonging their careers at Old Trafford after leaving the international arena, Ferguson will offer a wry smile if Ferdinand follows suit.