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Rio Ferdinand heading for FIFA World Cup in Brazil but will Roy Hodgson be joining him there?

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First of all let me say I have huge respect for both Roy Ferdinand and the current England manager Roy Hodgson, whom I predicted in this column when he was appointed would restore pride in wearing the Three Lions. But like players, managers are prone to making mistakes. And Hodgson has been guilty of failing to use his common sense.

Ferdinand will be heading to Rio one way or another. The betting now is that it will be as a pundit, judging by the impact he has made on Al Jazeera and the fall-out of this latest saga. Whether or not Hodgson makes it there too, with or without the Manchester United defender in the England team, is likely to remain in doubt until October at least. And the shadow of Ferdinand will not go away until England qualify.

 It is typical of the media, especially because he plays for Manchester United, that  Ferdinand has been singled out as this week’s public enemy No.1 by an array of pundits, ex-players and headline hungry journalists. But this is not his fault and if Hodgson was on top of his job this ridiculous scenario would never have happened.  

Hodgson has done himself no favours by naievely walking into a media storm of his own making by the way he has handled his non-selection and subsequent flawed selection of the former England skipper. It was bad enough that the boss made a mess of things in the first place when he omitted Ferdinand in favour of John Terry at Euro 2012. But the re-selection fiasco that has preceded Tuesday night’s crucial showdown in Montenegro could have been so easily avoided with a simple phone call.

As Mark Lawrenson pointed out in the Mirror this morning  “What does the England boss do all week? Are you telling me he could not have called Sir Alex Ferguson or Rio himself and said: “I’m planning to bring you back in the squad. Are there any issues with that?”

Sir Alex Ferguson’s support team at Carrington boasts a sophisticated sports science team that has worked wonders in helping to extend the careers of a succession of star players. The return to form and fitness of Ferdinand is further testimony to the value of a set-up second to none in the Premier League. And it is Hodgson’s job to know what is going on behind the scenes and not use guesswork.

If being England manager simply meant selecting a squad of names and pinning it to the notice board, it would be an easy job that most of us could do part-time. The game has moved on from the days when news of an England call-up was announced to the media before the players, or at least it should have done. Hodgson knew there were potential issues in selecting Ferdinand out of the blue after his public humiliation of the player last year. What is equally worrying is that he alienated Ferdinand in the first place, especially with England being so short of quality in central defence.

As Alan Hansen said in his column in the Daily Telegraph: “If you look at the Premier League this season, it is not surprising that England are so desperately short. The standard of defending has deteriorated to the lowest level I think I have ever seen.”

Managing a national team, especially superstars continually in the glare of media scrutiny, requires many skills, not least the ability to motivate, build team spirit and read situations correctly in order to avoid strength-sapping conflict. My belief is that Hodgson made the mistake of writing Ferdinand off when he alienated him in the summer and now that error of judgement has come back to haunt him. It is a measure of England’s desperate lack of quality at the back that we are still a long way short of replacing the formidable defensive partnership that Ferdinand and Terry once forged.

It was predictable that the media would criticise Ferdinand’s decision to travel to Qatar to sit in a TV studio on Friday night, when he could have been playing in the 8-0 thrashing of San Marino. But there is no way Rio would have made that trip if the medical experts back at Carrington thought it was putting his delicate back at risk. Meanwhile, the reality is that Ferdinand was only needed for the game in Montenegro and if Hodgson had done his homework and tried a lot harder to repair the damage he caused in the first place, maybe this could have happened.

What is indisputable is that Ferdinand has been outstanding for Manchester United this season. The statistics confirm he has been the best defender in the League. His career has been rejuvenated with the assistance of the medical support team who scientifically manage his training programme and advise the manager on the optimum time he should spend on the pitch. Hodgson should have been aware of this and in communication with the United throughout the season. No wonder Sir Alex and Ferdinand were taken by surprise when Hodgson announced his squad on March 14.

Great managers embrace sports science and understand the power of psychology, diplomacy and motivating their players to give everything for the common cause. If England fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup,  the way Hodgson has blundered his way through his man-management of key players will be called into question.

Whatever the result of Tuesday night’s crunch encounter in Montenegro with the side that currently tops England’s group, who makes it to Brazil will almost certainly remain in doubt until the final qualification matches are completed in October – and the ordeal will continue to the play-offs if England fail to top the group. My prediction is that England will make it to the World Cup. But if they do, let’s hope Hodgson has learned a few lessons and can avoid giving the media the excuse to undermine morale before the team gets on the pitch.

Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand speaking on AlJazeera

Source: via john on Pinterest

To pick John Terry and leave Rio Ferdinand out of Euro 2012 is a disgraceful thumbs up for racism

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It's black and white: John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are poles apart

It's black and white: John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are poles apart


On the face of it Roy Hodgson has picked a visionary path by opting to give youth a chance at Euro 2012 – but to accept that view without question would be to avoid the elephant in the room that threatens to blacken the reputation of the new England manager and has split the nation down the middle.

When Hodgson declared that he was omitting Rio Ferdinand “for football reasons” it was a controversial statement that did not sit comfortably with a large section of the football community who feared that this was a convenient way of side-stepping the rift between John Terry and the brother of Anton Ferdinand, the player the Chelsea skipper is accused of racially abusing.

Given the chance to reinstate Rio to the England squad following the double fracture to the jaw that has ruled Gary Cahill out of Euro 2012, Hodgson has this afternoon opted for the inexperienced Liverpool defender Martin Kelly – a right back! Aside from Terry, this means that England’s only remaining recognised centre backs are Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones.

To suggest that the Manchester United defender is out of form or unfit are hugely exaggerated. Ferdinand made 38 appearances for United this season and was ever present in the critical final stages.

Anyone who now doubts that Hodgson has been influenced by the knowledge that Terry and Ferdinand have fallen out would be naive at the very least.

Ferdinand indicated as much when he tweeted to his 2.8 million followers “What reasons?????!!! as he openly questioned Hodgson’s “football reasons” stance over his squad selection that will send England into a major tournament as the most unpopular national team ever to leave these shores.

Forget the simplistic argument that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Dismiss any suggestion that Terry’s inclusion will improve England’s chances in Poland and the Ukraine. Do not be sidetracked by the fury in certain quarters that Liverpool will have six players in the squad of 23. The reason for England fans turning against their country is summed up in two words: John Terry.

Terry, who will get the chance to clear his name in court after Euro 2012, denies the charges against him. In the meantime, he has damaged England more than any player in the history of the game – and the tragedy is that Terry, Hodgson and the Football Association all fail to recognise this fact.

The reality is that Terry’s toxic presence in this England squad is like a cancer that has eaten away at the very heart and soul of the nation’s football team.

Even if England did over-perform and do better than expected, for millions of football fans any success at Euro 2012 with Terry in the team would leave a bitter taste.

Whether or not Terry is found guilty of racism, the real sting in the tail is that England go to a major tournament defending the reputation of a man who has been accused of racism. To do so in a tournament where the hosts have a reputation for failing to tackle racism only magnifies that position. To omit a player because he had the strength of character to support his brother and make a stand against racism makes England look weak on an issue where we have done more good than any country in Europe.

When the new England manager said he does not care about Euro 2012 because his real focus is the next World Cup, he indicated he was going to give youth a chance. But that statement coupled with his omission of Ferdinand in favour of Terry may come back to haunt him over the next couple of weeks.

With Rio urging twits to behave it was poetic to see Giggs remind us there is no substitute for experience in Champions League

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Ryan Giggs - only Ruud Van Nistelrooy has scored more European goals for United

Ryan Giggs - only Ruud van Nistelrooy has scored more European goals for United


While the kids of Manchester United have taken the Premier League by storm with a breathtaking start to the season, it was fascinating to see Sir Alex Ferguson bank on experience in the Champions League opener at Benfica.

It is United’s 16th consecutive season in the world’s biggest club competition and Fergie has always said there is no substitute for experience on the European stage.

When ‘old man’ Ryan Giggs surged forward three minutes before the interval and hammered home an exquisite strike to make it 1-1, you could imagine United’s 69 year-old boss thinking ‘I got it right again boys!’

Minutes earlier, with United looking second best and trailing to a wonder strike from Cardozo, cyberspace was awash with worried fans urging the boss to make changes.

Man City went behind at home to Napoli but ended their Champions League debut with a 1-1 draw

Man City went behind at home to Napoli but ended their Champions League debut with a 1-1 draw

The lone tweeter urging patience was the injured Rio Ferdinand watching back home who told all the twits to behave.

“No need to panic all of you on here. We have been here before. Re-group and play our football and we’ll make chances,” promised Rio. And what do you know, moments later Giggs had the ball in the back of the net, prompting Ferdinand to quip. “Did he just read my last tweet!”

In all seriousness, United fans should know better than to doubt the gaffer – and no one should doubt the strength of this outstanding squad of players.

Only Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans kept their places in the line up that started against Bolton at the weekend, as Fergie made eight changes.

Anders Lindegaard made a couple of  excellent second half saves. But Fergie put the mischief makers in their place when he said: “It was a good performance by Anders. But David De Gea will play on Sunday against Chelsea – nothing has changed.”



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CLASSIC GOALS from Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham





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How will United deal with the mejestic football played by Iniesta, Messi and Xavi?

How will United deal with the mejestic football played by Iniesta, Messi and Xavi?


Forget the FIFA World Cup Final. This is the big one. The Champions League Final. The biggest game on the planet bar none. And never has a game been more eagerly anticipated. The 2011 Final at Wembley on Saturday (May 28) could be the ultimate showpiece for The Beautiful Game. It will certainly draw one of the biggest TV audiences of all time – and my prediction is that this time we will be treated to a contest to match the hype and delight the purists.

There is no doubt it is absolutely the dream final. Between the two most exciting teams in world football, whose history and fans demand entertainment as well as glory. Fortune favours the bold and with both sides committed to goals and glamour the recipe for a classic is surely guaranteed.

Two years ago Barca triumphed when Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi scored the goals in a 2-0 win against a Manchester United side weighed down by a shocking contribution by Cristiano Ronaldo – playing his final game in a red shirt before his £80 million move to Real Madrid.

Hernandez and Rooney - United's unstoppable force up front

Hernandez and Rooney - United

But this time the Catalans know they face a much tougher challenge to their status as the World’s top ranked club. United have got better and better all season making the critics – who keep telling us this is not an outstanding team – look more and more ridiculous.

At times this season United have hit extraordinary heights to match any in the epic 25 year resign of the world’s greatest football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The twin threat of a Wayne Rooney back to his glorious best and Mexican sensation Javier Hernandez is as good as it gets. Edwin Van Der Sar will be retiring as the world’s best goalkeeper and skipper Nemanja Vidic is an absolute rock alongside the elegance of Rio Ferdinand.

Sir Alex Ferguson aiming to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for a third time

Sir Alex Ferguson aiming to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for a third time

Ryan Giggs has never played better and his reinvention as a central midfield playmaker gives United an extra creative dimension that at times this season has mirrored the famous Barca carousel orchestrated by Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the incomparable Lionel Messi.

As David Beckham said earlier this week: “If anyone can beat Barcelona at their peak Man United can.” With the width offered by any combination of Antonio Valencia, Ji Sung Park, Nani, Patrice Evra and the Da Silva twins this United team has the ammunition to hit Barca where it hurts.

Barca are certainly not underestimating the Red Devils. “This Manchester United team is much more unpredictable without Cristiano Ronaldo,” says wing-back Davi Alves “They have formed a more balanced group and they are stronger than they were two years ago.” Striker David Villa added: “Ronaldo’s departure has liberated them. Many great players come and go and that has allowed them to remain at the top for so long.” Andres Iniesta belives United have “grown as a team”.

Pep Guardiola admires the strength of Man Utd

Pep Guardiola admires the strength of Man Utd

And coach Pep Guardiola – who watched in awe as United’s second string completed a staggering 6-1 aggregate win over Schalke in the semi-final – admits: “We have been looking at the 2009 game and they were better than us in the first half.

“The level is equal, they are strong, competitive and they can play with four or five different formations and they stay competitive. They are one of the best teams in the world, and not just this year. We are proud to be playing them.”

As Steve Bruce, a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner with the Red Devils against Barcelona 20 years ago, says, Sir Alex will “want to win the trophy the Manchester United way.” And Bruce predicts the Boss has a master plan that will confirm why he is the greatest: “If anyone can get it right on the night the great man can.”

Whoever lifts the trophy The Beautiful Game will be the winner if both sides come out without inhibition and a determination to show the world just how good they really are.


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CLASSIC GOALS from Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham

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2-goal hero Mark Hughes lifts the European Cup Winners' Cup after United's 2-1 win over Barcelona in 1991

2-goal hero Mark Hughes lifts the European Cup Winners

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AFTER all the hysterical criticism of Wayne Rooney over the past few days Chelsea felt the full force of Manchester United’s genious No.10 who was at his imperious best in tonight’s titanic Champions League quarter-final first leg at Stamford Bridge.

The game was decided by a dream goal that represented everything great about the beautiful game when Michael Carrick found Ryan Giggs with the accuracy of a quarter-back and the  Welsh wizard set up Rooney with an outstanding first touch and inch perfect lay-off that was steered home with inch-perfect precision.

But there was a lot more about this majestic performance than a golden strike that gave United the precious away goal and the victory they craved. After a run of four straight defeats on the ground where the Reds have every right to believe results went against because of poor refereeing decisions, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men dug deep to deliver a display of true grit and pure quality.

How ironic that Chelsea ended the night blaming the Spanish referee for refusing to award a debatable penalty in the dying second when Patrice Evra challenged Ramires.

How the Sun reported tonight's Champions League winner by Wayne Rooney

How the Sun reported tonight's Champions League winner by Wayne Rooney

The difference this time – regardless of whether or not referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco got this one right – is that  the best team on the night won the match, unlike the previous contests that went against a dominant United team when Chelsea received blatant assistance from errors by the match officials.

From start to finish tonight Manchester United were a cut above a disjointed Chelsea side that inexplicably opted for Fernando Torres at the expense of the Didier Drogba-Nicolas Anelka partnership that is clearly heir best partnership.

Torres started with Drogba and finished alongside Anelka. He hit the post and saw a header denied by a great save from Edwin Van Der Saar. But in the end the Spaniard’s shabby attempt to con a penalty out of the referee when he clearly dived in he box probably counted against Chelsea when Ramires’ late appeal for a spot kick was a borderline decision that for once went against the home side.

No one is foolish enough to believe other than this titanic struggle is still all to play for in the second leg. But United are now the favorites for next Tuesday’s conclusion at The Theatre of Dreams. And as Fergie underlined tonight it’s the aura of Old Trafford and what will be a fever pitch atmosphere created by United’s fans that will count just as much as that first leg lead.

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FABIO CAPELLO may have been a successful club manager in Italy – but the England job is just too big for him. And the latest embarrassing saga of whether or not John Terry will replace the injured Rio Ferdinand as skipper is the last straw.

Capello's latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

Capello’s latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

The way Capello – who got it so hopelessly wrong at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa – has been manipulated by the media proves it is time for him to make way for Harry Redknapp, the outstanding English manager of his generation.

Even thinking about handing the captain’s armband back to John Terry on a permanent basis is a disgrace. But to chew the matter over with the press and appear to write off Ferdinand before he has discussed it with the player is shameful.

The England captaincy has become a big issue for Capello following February’s friendly against Denmark when Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole all wore the armband at different stages of the match because Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard were both out injured.

“I was really upset about what happened in Denmark, when I saw the players saying ‘who is the captain?’,” said Capello. “After one year of punishment, it was not the best moment for John Terry to see this. For that reason, I need to make a decision – and it will be a permanent decision, not just one game.”

Terry was stripped of the captaincy in February 2010 after reports surfaced that he had an affair with the former partner of England team-mate Wayne Bridge. Ferdinand, 32, was made captain. But has since made only four appearances for England and will miss the upcoming game against Wales because of problems with his back and calf.

Capello wants Terry back - how Daily Mail broke the story

Capello wants Terry back – how Daily Mail broke the story

Now it seems Capello has been persuaded to re-think his stance by “certain London-based media” close to the Chelsea skipper. England’s bungling boss revealed his thinking over an espresso in an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge on Monday. His camp now insist no decision has been made but admit Terry is being considered.

He may be an experienced player. But Terry is past his best and has lost respect within the England team for a series of errors of judgement. World Cup skipper Steven Gerrard was undermined by Terry’s arrogant and ill-advised attempt to hold a players’ meeting to discuss their failings in South Africa.

Now Ferdinand has every right to be upset over the way Capello has managed the situation by floating his idea of re-instating Terry in public. It is not the first time the Italian has embarrassed one of his stars in this way. Last August he told the media David Beckham was finished as an England international and admitted in the same interview he had not even discussed it with the player.

Now it is time for the Football Association to tell Capello that he is finished. And the sooner the better.

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