There’s been a series of events surrounding current and former England players that has highlighted, once and for all; the group dubbed the Golden Generation is in the autumn of its years. Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole have reached the 100-cap mark, Rio Ferdinand has dithered about whether or not he can stand up to the rigours of international and Premier League football, and Michael Owen has announced his retirement from football.
It is the Ferdinand case that should raise the greatest questions about the next generation of England internationals. Gerrard and Cole remain valuable members of the squad and Owen had been absent for a while, but when faced with something of an injury crisis in the centre of defence, manager Roy Hodgson turned to the 34-year-old, in form with Manchester United but out of favour internationally since June 2011.
There are two ways to look at Hodgson’s decision to call-up Ferdinand. Either the manager is right to turn to Ferdinand given his strong club displays when in need of reinforcements in defence, or he is wrong to turn to a veteran player he previously banished from the national team for reasons he insisted were related to football and nothing more.
Whatever your take on Hodgson’s decision to include Ferdinand in his original squad, there is no way the selection of an injury-hit player the far side of 30 can be viewed as anything other than a short-term measure. Ferdinand may yet get into the squad for next year’s World Cup, should England qualify, but the tournament in Brazil would surely be his final swansong.
Hodgson chose Ferdinand over a younger alternative, such as Steven Caulker, the Tottenham defender called into the squad after a spate of withdrawals, or Ryan Shawcross, the Stoke captain who made his England bow against Sweden in November 2012. He also preferred Ferdinand to Steven Taylor, who was named in the squad after Ferdinand recused himself, West Ham’s James Tomkins, and Joleon Lescott, like Taylor a late addition to the squad.
After the aforementioned players, though, Hodgson’s choices are desperately slim. Injuries have played a part. Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones were both already missing. Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill picked up injuries playing for their clubs at the weekend. John Terry has chosen not to play for his country again. Jamie Carragher is months away from retiring from football altogether. That leaves precious few England-qualified centre-backs not already selected or unavailable for one reason or another.
It might not be so much that Hodgson preferred the short-term measure of re-drafting Ferdinand into the international set-up as his hands being tied by circumstance, and English football’s failure to produce a new generation of players. Or, if the players are there, a collective failure to see these players perform at the very highest level, challenging for Premier League titles and competing in the Champions League.
Ferdinand hasn’t played tournament football since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, missing the 2008 European Championships when England failed to qualify and the 2010 World Cup due to injury. England lost to Portugal in the 2006 quarter-final and, as a sign of how little the England squad has moved on at its core, Ferdinand is one of five players who started against the Portuguese and are still active under Hodgson – Cole, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney are the others, and the number would be six if not for Terry’s retirement.
Portugal, penalty shootout victors, have one, Cristiano Ronaldo, still only 28, with both countries containing a substitute or two also in squads named for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. And it’s not an isolated case with Portugal – France have only Franck Ribery left from their quarter-final win over Brazil, Germany have three 2006 veterans from the penalty win over Argentina and Italy three from their 3-0 defeat of Ukraine.
The other nations may have gone to Germany 2006 with older squads than England, necessitating an overhaul in the intervening years, but the fact remains England are carrying an old squad and, if the revolution is to happen, it’ll have to happen soon. Hodgson preferred the veteran Ferdinand to a new face, perhaps through a dearth of other options or some in-built caution and trust in experience, but the Golden Generation won’t be around forever – if it ever truly existed in the first place.
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