Can Roy Pick Rio For Rio?

September 27, 2012 in International by Louis Baxter

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First of all, how about that wordplay, no? That right there is why nobody pays me to do this. Secondly, with the year-long John Terry Scandal ending the only way it could or should - with the Chelsea captain no longer in the conversation for England selection - certain awkward questions may need to be faced and the centre-back berth will need to be filled. So who have we got? The senior three next in line would be Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott, Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, and none of these feel like sure bets.

Lescott had an excellent season for City last year, as well as an excellent Euro 2012. But he also appears to be on the precipice of losing his starting place at City to a Serbian 19-year old, something that if doesn’t happen now, seems almost certain to happen in time for Brazil 2014. There’s also questions over whether he can truly be relied on, and the fact that he’s the wrong side of 30. Jagielka, like Lescott, will be 32 come tournament time, and while his Everton place will certainly not be in question, his aptitude might be, as he’s never played or competed at the highest level for club. Gary Cahill, I think, is the only one of these three that has the potential to truly be a world class defender, but there he is, warming the Chelsea bench, back-up to Sideshow Bob and Mr Resigned in Disgrace himself, who will probably walk into that Chelsea team until he’s 45. The issue of regular football could rear its head again.

So to the kids, right, the likes of Phil Jones and Steven Caulker will no doubt be ready in time, right? Well, it’s a possibility, but not a guarantee. Both are talents, but ready for the world stage in 18 months? Jones more likely than Caulker, but he’s still a player too rough around the edges, as poor in the second half of last season as was as strong in the first half, and Caulker is fighting a hell of a crowd to break through at Tottenham. Now I’m not here to start a panic, any of all these players might play and do fine, or perhaps someone else will burst through this or next season. But you have to wonder whether Roy will go back to the only defender at his disposal with a wealth of international experience and proven world-class credentials. Rio Ferdinand is not what he used to be and I’m not necessarily suggesting that he should start,  but he still claims a 1st choice spot at Manchester United and I can’t help but think a sure head like his will be invaluable in a  squad of CBs who, outside of Lescott, don’t have a minute of tournament experience to their name, and it’s not like Jagielka and Cahill are that young.

But picking Ferdinand has more than its fair share of hurdles. For one, to see Ferdinand’s name on the England team sheet ever again is to confess that Roy’s ‘footballing reasons’ shtick before this summer was exactly what we all thought it was - a vague and meaningless jargon used so nobody would have to admit Ferdinand wasn’t going because John Terry allegedly racially abused his brother. It would admit to that being a PR lie, done to avoid tension and keep Roy’s first choice centre-back Terry happy, and while there’s a cold pragmatism to that, it paints a rather morally unpleasant picture of the England manager, and I think Hodgson would lose my respect, and I’d imagine the respect of a few others, if it were to go down like that too.

Hodgson stuck by Terry all the way, going so far to recently say he hoped the England captain wouldn’t be charged by the FA over the Anton Ferdinand incident, as if his need for a centre-back trumped a player facing the consequences for his supposed on-the-pitch racism. Again, not great stuff, Roy. But all this is to ask, if he has supported Terry to this extent, will Ferdinand even consider playing for the man? And if he does, can Hodgson afford the bad PR? An England manager is always a game away from being sacked, as they say, and the last thing he needs is for his character to be called into question.

So I think there are just too many hurdles, too much red tape for Rio to get a look in again, even in a disaster type scenario where Lescott breaks his leg and Cahill re-breaks his face. To pick Rio is to admit to a lie Roy can’t be seen admitting to, so we’ll take untested players to Rio, in my opinion. Lescott and Jagielka is probably our first choice pairing for the next few qualifying games, and it will suffice. But I look over at Spain and see Puyol and Ramos, and can’t help but feel… is this it? Unless Phil Jones turns into something imperious, I think this looks to be a weak point for us going forward, and ruling out players over politics is the last thing we should be doing (other than FA-convicted racism; yes, I think it’s fine in that case) in a team where pickings are so sparse.

Oh, and if you don’t beat San Marino 10-0, England, then I’m done with you forever. Once in a generation you get this chance you m”********rs, don’t waste it.