The Ferdinand Dilemma
By Chris Palmer.
England captain Rio Ferdinand is out of the World Cup after suffering a knee injury during England’s first training session in South Africa. Ferdinand suffered the injury following a challenge with Emile Heskey at England’s training base, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus at Rustenburg. A scan at a nearby hospital showed that he had suffered ligament damage to his left knee and will be out of action for six weeks. It comes at the end of an already injury plagued season for Ferdinand in which he was only been able to represent his club, Manchester United, in a mere twenty-one games. Tottenham centre-back Michael Dawson is now hot-footing his way to South Africa as Ferdinand’s replacement whilst Steven Gerrard will assume the captaincy in his absence.
How severe is the loss of Ferdinand to England’s aspirations of lifting the World Cup on July 11th in Johannesburg?
Well, no doubt it’s a blow. Fabio Capello will have been hoping that Ferdinand’s partnership with John Terry in the heart of the English defence could be the bedrock upon which he could base his team but with both players struggling with injuries and subsequently form their usual solidarity was already in doubt. Ferdinand looked out of sorts in England’s first warm-up friendly against Mexico the other week his usual composure and coolness often missing. There is no doubt that when on top of his game Ferdinand offers something that most English centre-halves don’t; genuine composure on the ball, a confidence in bringing the ball out of defence and an eye for a pass. These are all qualities that can significantly lift a team on the international stage but with only limited playing time this season those skills haven’t been as evident as usual. Ferdinand has also looked a little rusty in his reading of the game and his general awareness on the pitch, but still Ferdinand is a class act who will be missed and not easily replaced.
And to whom might the task of replacing him fall?
Ledley King would seem to be the most obvious replacement. His game is based around similar principles to Ferdinand’s and he has been in amazing form for Tottenham this season especially in the closing stages when it mattered most. But, well, we all know King’s problems. If we’re talking of knees then King’s knees are perhaps in worse shape than Ferdinand’s. At Tottenham, Ledley King has to adhere to a special training regime which precludes him from taking part in regular training sessions with his teammates. This is the result of a chronic knee problem that requires King to take large amounts of rest between games in order to allow him to play. Obviously this is a problem at a World Cup where games are scheduled between four and six days apart, but perhaps there is hope, as towards the end of the season King was able to play three games in one week for Tottenham. King himself is confident he can cope with the rigours of the World Cup stating that he feels he can play in all of England’s World Cup games if necessary:
“I probably could not do it over a season but over a short period I definitely can do it – with the medical team we have here and the right recovery programme, why not? Yes I can.”
Alongside King as Ferdinand’s mostly likely replacement stands Jamie Carragher. Capello coaxed Carragher out of international retirement for exactly this reason; his versatility. Predominately in the World Cup squad as right-back cover for Liverpool teammate Glen Johnson, Carragher would surely relish stepping into the centre-back position he occupies for his club. Carragher is perhaps more in the John Terry mould as a centre-back; not as skilful on the ball but good in the air, strong in the tackle and dedicated to the last. But would pairing Carragher and Terry together leave England more vulnerable against teams with quicker and more mobile attacks?
After Carragher and King we come to Michael Dawson, currently en route to South Africa, and West Ham’s Matthew Upson, the only two other recognised centre-halves in the squad. Neither are likely to be first choices to be Ferdinand’s replacement, a fact evidenced by neither of them playing a single minute in England’s two warm-up games against Mexico and Japan last week, but depending on injuries and suspensions during the tournament they may be called upon and perhaps they may be called upon when it matters most later in the tournament. Upson has been around the England squad for a while and has deputised for Ferdinand before during World Cup Qualifying but World Cup Qualifying and the World Cup itself are two entirely different matters. Upson hasn’t had a stand-out season for West Ham but he has proven himself an able if not spectacular player on the international scene. Dawson is the opposite, he has had a very good season for Tottenham being a key component in their 4th place finish and qualifying for the Champions League but he has yet to play international football and is as such an unknown quantity at this level. A World Cup is a big place to be making your international debut but after such a good season for his club Dawson may well be up to it.
As well as being replaced in the heart of England’s defence Ferdinand will also need to be replaced as England’s captain and leader and we already know that this job has fallen to vice-captain Steven Gerrard. Capello has already stated that he doesn’t place much importance in who his captain is, or at least not as much importance as the English press do, and that he expects to see several leaders out on the pitch not just the man wearing the armband. Gerrard will prove a more than able replacement and if he can deliver for his country as he does whilst wearing the armband of his club, Liverpool, then being captain may even see him raising his game to another level during the World Cup.
England fans have no fear. The loss of Rio is a blow but not a severe one. Let’s just hope Rooney doesn’t get injured next.
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