Capello revealed yesterday it would be Ferdinand, returned as captain, and Lescott at the heart of England’s defence after Terry joined Everton defender Phil Jagielka on the injured list. Together with Sunderland’s Darren Bent and Aaron Lennon of Tottenham Hotspur, Capello has been robbed of four options from his original squad – the only positive fitness news coming from the United pair of Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, who have both been confirmed as fit with Rooney set to partner Peter Crouch in attack. But it is the availability of Ferdinand that is likely to please Capello most of all, particularly given the form of Montenegro’s dangerous captain and talisman, Roma forward Mirko Vucinic. With two goals from three qualifying games – both winning goals, over Wales and Switzerland – the 27-year-old is, in the absence of Stevan Jovetic especially, Montenegro’s most potent weapon, and Ferdinand and Lescott and the rest of the England defence will lose sight of him at their peril.
Ferdinand’s presence will bring reassuring familiarity to an England defence that has been chopped and changed with alarming frequency over recent games. For all his injury problems, England cannot boast another defender with Ferdinand’s all-round qualities – a timely burst of pace, strength in the air and in the tackle and ability with the ball at his feet, and both club and country are worse off without him. After playing a full part in two United games in four days, against Valencia and Sunderland – games that United kept all-too-rare clean sheets in – Ferdinand appears to have shaken off the injury problems that kept him out of the World Cup and hampered his start to the season but the added rest of a free Friday evening will have stood him in good stead for tonight’s fixture. For while there are a number of English centre-backs awaiting their chance – Ryan Shawcross, Roger Johnson and Scott Dann to name a few – they each have a way to go before reaching Ferdinand’s level.
The likes of Shawcross, Johnson and Dann, and even more established international names such as Cahill, Jagielka and the currently injured Michael Dawson, show encouraging signs of the potential to play on the level of Ferdinand but all lack his composure, a cool head when all around are losing theirs. Whether that is something which can be gained or has to be innate within a person is a different argument for a different day, but a few of the pretender’s to Ferdinand’s throne – or should that be armband? – could do with taking a page from his disciplinary playbook – one red card and 27 yellow in the last decade, excellent for a central defender, although missing a drugs test is an admittedly large misdemeanour. On the field, however, Ferdinand’s sound record owes as much to his calm under fire as his ball-winning skills, and what difference – if any – he would have made to England’s defensive implosion against Germany in June is something we will never know.
Pairing Ferdinand and Lescott for the Montenegro game has given Capello a good balance at centre-back, particularly with the right foot/left foot combination now guaranteed. But Lescott has spent much of his time at Manchester City – particularly under Roberto Mancini – as a left-back, and now has to shift across at relatively short notice. Having not played centrally at club level this year, and only once for England, a month ago against Switzerland, Lescott will have to reacclimatise himself to a position away from the touchline with very little time to bed in against the side that currently top Group G. Lescott has only started sporadically for City this season – five times from a possible 12, a consequence of injury and Mancini’s rotation policy – and the two chosen centre-backs, with just 10 games between them from all competitions this season, need to justify the Head Coach’s faith and ensure it is not Vucinic but one of England’s forwards – Crouch, Rooney or Davies – grabbing the post-match headlines too.