No Sisyphean Masochism for Roy

Rio Ferdinand has been left behind for footballing reasons: it’s just those footballing reasons go beyond the media’s overly simplistic understanding of the term. As Real Madrid’s failed Galacticos proved, the best team is not necessarily made by having superstars in every position. Moreover, as any amateur footballer will know, even getting into a first XI is a heady mix of ability, friendship, politics and power. Who gets a lift with who, who drinks with who, who shows up for training all impact team selection: all these factors help determine the distribution of the shirt numbers. Yes, we are talking about the national team here, but it’s foolish to think that the consideration of team spirit does not run through selection policy.

For the sake of esprit de corps you can’t take Rio and John. The reasons behind that are well documented and have nothing to do with football, it is true. However, I would argue that one of the two is left behind because Hodgson is thinking about his “good tourists” and his back four, and not because he believes he needs to show his support for either the defence or prosecution at JT’s upcoming court date.

Anyone can see that a squad that contains both players is unlikely to produce the cohesive unit necessary to triumph during the peculiar jolly that is an international football tournament. JT is accused of racially abusing Rio’s brother and Ferdinand has never been shy of expressing his opinions whether just, or indeed pathetic. You would almost be forgiven for thinking less of the Manchester United man if he didn’t address the matter with Terry during the drawn out days in Krakow, even if he had to do it in 140 characters or less.

Fabio Capello’s unhappy South African adventure was rumoured to be helped to its calamitous end by divisions within the squad – as JT’s display of modesty at that Cape Town press conference suggested. Post-USA ’94 and Hodgson’s delivering of Switzerland to the World Cup, he admitted he had got his squad selection wrong by being too focused on covering every position rather than generating a happy camp. Given his own mistakes and England’s more recent travails, it is easy to see Roy exercising his tournament experience in not packing a timebomb along with his flip flops and Martin Amis novels.

So you can only pick one. This is the real debate. Who is more valuable to England’s defensive cause?

The stats from last season suggest the real reason that Rio is right to feel a sense of righteous indignation. He has played more games, both in the league and in total, this season than any year since 2007/2008. As of April, his Opta stats were impressive enough to earn him a place above Terry in the number cruncher’s England side. Hodgson is reportedly a lover of such analysis. Rio is also on the right side of the divide when it comes to divisiveness. He is the protagonist for “merks” rather than “mutinies” and, lest we forget, isn’t weighed down by captaincy scandals or a court case.

Terry meanwhile, renowned for playing through the pain barrier, begins the slow march to all manner of pain-killing injection-inspired later-life grief. He has made fewer appearances for Chelsea this year than at any time since 2008/2009 – and that in a season when the Blues made their way to two cup finals. He clearly continues to hold ideas above his station too – as his post substitution Squadron Leader performance against Napoli proved. He seems like a dangerous element, especially as he has form for undermining England’s leader of last resort Gerrard, not so captain fantastic two years ago. If life were more like an episode of Homeland, you’d be bugging Terry’s hotel room from the get go.


Sir Alex Ferguson recently told MUTV that Rio’s creaking frame simply isn’t up to the intensity of a game every four days. John Terry, despite a recent hamstring scare, can be relied upon to meet the demands of Euro 2012 even if he has to speed his inexorable flight to chronic joint pain. As Capello found to his cost with Ledley King, picking a centre-half so clearly not ‘fit-for-purpose’ can only end up making the coach look like George Osborne writing a budget, Theresa May reading a calender, or Jeremy Hunt choosing his friends. With his refusal to take a player known not to be up to the rigours of the tournament, Roy is smartly avoiding the sisyphean masochism of his recent predecessors.

More subjectively, for all his apparent personal faults off it, JT is a leader on the pitch and isn’t particularly prone to mistakes on it. Despite Rio having the better stats, Terry only made an error every 780 mins last season, compared to Rio’s 706 mins per gaffe. Until Gary Cahill’s need for emergency dentistry it had seemed clear that Hodgson was planning for an all-Chelsea centre-back pairing, one that had impressed against Barcelona until Terry’s red card for kneeing Alexis Sanchez – an event that was at once totally in keeping with his alleged character and at the same time a complete aberration from his playing persona. For me the Chelsea connection would probably clinch what is a close call between Terry and Ferdinand: Hodgson was just unfortunate that Cahill’s jaw wasn’t up to Joe Hart’s chest.

Terry, hate him or loathe him, is an inspiring defender. Hodgson, like him or can’t-quite-bring-yourself-to-hate him, has made a difficult decision and stuck to it, despite Rio being the only stick the press could find to beat him with in the three weeks they have had together. Let’s judge Roy on football results and let a jury judge JT. If “legal reasons” see that he is convicted of racial abuse post Euro 2012, then let Roy never consider him again.

Posted by Gregg Morgan

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One thought on “No Sisyphean Masochism for Roy

  1. […] It’s beyond doubt that England have benefited significantly from Roy Hodgson’s prioritisation of the collective over the individual, even though many – including several SotB writers – have found the end product slightly […]

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