Fickle England fans only harm themselves

Posted by Mark Payne

Rio Ferdinand has 81 caps for EnglandPA PhotosRio Ferdinand has 81 caps for England

Playing for England is a political maelstrom that requires those involved to keep a variety of parties happy. Rio Ferdinand being booed on Friday, in England’s biggest victory for 26 years, is another example of a good player being put off by a thankless task. Every time that happens, England gets further away from any potential success.

Ferdinand stood no chance in this situation. All of a sudden he was in every newspaper in the country, pandering to the needs of several different groups. The England football team needed him, which meant the England manager had called him up, and he would be in the care of the Football Association.

Back at home, he has his club manager to answer to and his own fitness to keep in check. Not to mention all of those football fans out there who like to shout their opinions in between expletives. A quiet couple of weeks off work started to look tricky. Perhaps he pictured himself as one of those people at the circus who juggle chainsaws.

The quick answer is that the ‘honour’ of playing for your country surpasses all others. Certainly, Ferdinand is a proud Englishman and has always said he would make himself available to the national team. However, his treatment at the hands of the FA and the current manager has been pretty poor. Ferdinand deserves great credit for even talking to these people.

As a football player of the highest caliber, Ferdinand wants to be able to play in every game he can and help his teams to win. Unfortunately, at his age his fitness does not allow him to keep everybody happy. But he was willing to go. The mixed messages that emerged over the past 10 days suggest strongly that this was a decision he agonised over. He was clearly torn on what to do. In any other line of work it would be a no-brainer; “Thanks, but no thanks.”

After careful consideration, and probably with Sir Alex Ferguson gently breathing down his neck, he called Hodgson. It is important to remember that Hodgson had not bothered to ring Ferdinand in the first place. They met, Ferdinand explained his situation and Hodgson was satisfied. By all accounts, that suggests Ferdinand had acted professionally and with a bit of class.

And now the fans are booing him because he has done some TV work. Ferdinand could not have behaved better in this situation. To even think that he might play on the same team as Ashley Cole again must be galling for him. To play for a team where the fans boo him too? I am not sure he should bother.

The behaviour of the fans in this situation is very self-defeating. Ferdinand is an excellent player who is an asset to the fortunes of the national team. So many good players have walked away from England early. What difference would a willing Paul Scholes have made in the past 10 years? Quite a big one, you might think.

If England make it to Brazil next year, and the wispy forward of a mid-level national side tears a wobbly England defence to pieces, then the England fans have no one else to blame but themselves. It is not an honour to be booed. And it is a huge shame that a classy player such as Ferdinand has been put in a quandary such as this. It can only discourage people from playing for England in the future.

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