Into his 17th year as a professional footballer, Rio Ferdinand still has the knack for a headline or two. The 34 year old centre-back has (unwittingly?) blown up the Twitterverse with a starring role in Riogate (the 2013 edition). Engulfing, for lack of a more descriptive adjective, 140 characters of opinion around the world, one man’s back spasm has manifested into a fiery debate of vigor and robust. Yet, for all the ‘should he / shouldn’t he’, there are two tangential stories that also come to mind when discussing the – well three, if we’re being picky, but we won’t go down that third rabbit hole of ‘young vs. old’ just yet.
First and foremost is the poisoned chalice of the England manager role. Whether it’s Steve McClaren’s aloof remarks about how well “Wazza” played or Fabio Capello simply being Fabio Capello, you’ll struggle to find a league of gentlemen ready/willing/able to support the task at hand. Yes, headlines need to be written, papers need to be sold, and clicks need to be made – but for once, it would be lovely to let the England national team take to a series of matches without some brown stain adorning the pearly white shirt of the 3 Lions.
While Ferdinand’s opting in then out of the England squad was something of a farce, it’s really not down to those on Twitter, nor the national media, to assume they understand the ins and outs of how Rio manages or treats his ongoing injury. Nor is it for us, en masse, to really judge Roy Hodgson. A proven tactician and manager. While Rio has 81 caps for his country, prolonging what he dreamed of as a kid (a professional footballer) likely remains paramount in his mind. Forget Manchester United, forget the wage packet, if you throw in a degree of subjectivity – you get the sense Rio is the type of guy that wants to play ball, no? Fine. Let’s flip it back to objectivity for a second. Flying thousands of miles roundtrip across Europe for a dead rubber tie, training, and all that goes along with being an international footballer, perhaps it doesn’t make sense for Rio to have even gone (or said yes) in the first place. If he tweaked his back, he’d miss the season, it would delay him for pre-season, and so the slippery slope begins. But that’s Rio. Rio isn’t alone in being Rio, but Rio also doesn’t capture every international footballer (young or old). Rio and his medical staff know what’s best. Perhaps that’s a naïve statement, perhaps not. Roy Hodgson, however, knows what’s best for him and his team and that is something that people need to start supporting and getting behind – even when Roy has packed it in and Stuart Pearce is in charge. Fine. Alan…Pardew? Case in point; let it go. In time Rio will become what Michael Owen was – a footballer we will celebrate after he retires. Right now, he’s the divisive focus of opinion, and opinion on a topic that very few people truly know about (medical duty of care around a chronic injury).
This bleeds into the second point of club versus country. We all know who wears the trousers in that relationship. When those who “pay his wages!!1!” come calling, he [the footballer] must listen. Well, bugger that. Isn’t that what those hefty, inane insurance policies are for? Taking club association out of it, what about one’s personal pride in playing for their country? Why can’t local teams develop local players who can go on to celebrate success at the highest level? People drool about Barcelona and the midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta who went on to European and World Cup glory. Yet if it’s ‘Footballer A’ from your local club, there’s an almighty uproar. Why can’t you enjoy the success of your own player? Does it offend you when a rival player of a team you despise gives your bestie a high five and a hug when they meet up for England duty? If the footballers themselves can be proud (and they’re the ones who have dedicated their lives to getting to that point) of playing for their country, then why can’t football fans simmer down and just enjoy the moment? The tribalism is almost Neanderthal like.
Good luck in Podgorica, because the lack of strength in depth England has across its own domestic leagues is staggering, pitiful, pathetic and a crying shame. Onward with the youth revolution! If the Premier League will ever give anyone any money, that is.
Oh, and for giggles, a cynic might write – if Ledley King can fly to South Africa and play in a World Cup with knees of jam, then why can’t Rio sack up for one game away in Montenegro? Tweet on!