Is it just me that thinks that Rio – in his admittedly low-voltage kindofaway – appears to want to give off both something of the guru and the gangsta? (And I ask this in the awareness of the danger of slapping stereotype upon racial slight or slackness here.) He’s got a certain power in that low-geared, almost ambling style of his that diffuses itself into ‘projects’, some of which conflict. Is he, for example (or is anyone else, mind?) really an anti-gun/knife, pro pro-empowerment-thru-education, unfaithful metro-renaissance man with what appear to be occasional flashes of lefty intelligence, who identifies with black urban music and an oppressed worldview… and produces/approves films/music with a worryingly confrontational dynamic? If so how does that all work? And why am I wondering that?

It’s partly, of course, because I’m a white geezer who really doesn’t understand or know the territory – I accept that. But it’s also because we are, right now, by his centrality to the England selection fiasco, pretty much bound to wonder at his integrity – maybe at his level of maturity (even) – given the undeniably childish way this Hodgson/Terry/Fergie/Rio/Qatari/Spinal Rehabgate thing is unravelling. In brief the er… highlights;

1. In a previous life, Hodgson foolishly chooses Terry over Ferdinand

2. Rio sulks but continues to radiate that god’s-gift sweeperaciousness whilst nonchalantly easing round the park…

3. so as to make ultimate re-selection an inevitability.

4. When the call comes, Rio snubs…

5. And Hodgson shrugs…

6. And ‘statements’ come out…

7. And they all sound like cobblers. Embarrassing cobblers.

8. Essentially, Rio has apparently done everything to exact a kind of revenge upon Hodgson, the FA, and the universe. It’s garbage – all of it. Sez yer average fan.

Now might be the time to say that Rio Ferdinand – even allowing for the debilitating injuries (particularly, I imagine the back injuries) – has been close to the best centre-back England has ever produced. If he had remained free from pain and boundlessly agile, I think he may even have been England’s finest player all round. He is one of few who can stop people playing whilst caressing the ball about the place. He can head, tackle, read the game at a level far higher than most; then he brings in that composure, that comfort on the ball and his peers – let’s say like John Terry – look quite quite ordinary by comparison. Fit, he would have been the best centre-half in the world, as Ferguson said he might be on the day he signed for United. For emphasis, I want to repeat that he’s been pretty damn close to the best centre-half in the world whilst playing hurt for years; he’s that good.

But now this. The potential for yahboosuckery has been there for some time. Without being party to the (entirely normal, actually?) clique-making proclivities amongst the Engerland FC elite, it’s been clear that Mardy-Bums lurk. Ferdinand – wow, I realise that this is such a contentious thing to write about him – appears to be an individual (amongst several – black and/or white) – with a chip on his shoulder. Therefore unlikely to accept the vagaries of a new gaffer’s policy on this or that should it clash heavily with his own needs and indeed self-image. I imagine Ferdinand can’t stand any of Hodgson, Cole or Terry and these feelings are likely reciprocated. What is a wee bit tiresome here is the fact of Engerland’s Need.

Egos. Mountainous and cavernous and generally all-round large and hairy interveneth. And it clangs against our – the punter, the fan’s – sense of what is good and right about Playing For Your Country, however dodgily old-fashioned (or not?) that concept may be. A big lump of the universe thinks that playing footie for his/her country really is an Ultimate. Yanking up those formerly Umbro socks, trotting out to wave at an openly weeping cluster of friends near the Royal Box, ritualistically parping mucous out the nozzy as the ref counts down the seconds. Ultimate. So what… what’s happened to those standards, those understandings? Given that Rio is still, currently, our best centre-back?

There is an assumption that few modern players appreciate the import of these classically traditional/tribal feelings in the way that Stanley Matthews or even Stanley Bowles did. That yes or no from the England Boss meant a huge amount. Dads did blub; mums did flutter with a pride that wasn’t all nationalistic mania; it contained or described even a kind of love. It may well still be out there, in fact; it’s just that we feel overwhelmingly that such is the absurd and cosseted and raw self-important nature of the average Premiership beast that these things typically just don’t matter like they did. (Whether this in itself is a phenomenon to regret or to celebrate, by the way, is another fascinating, quasi-political matter – but one for another time.) Certainly the modern elite pro’ doesn’t need to care about much; he is either rich or obscenely rich; there are no worries about security or profile; when every need is so luxuriously taken care of a certain smugness surely sets in. (Generally.)

Footballers are not known for their sensitivity or intelligence; though the game has changed, the prevalence of gambolling youff or over-coiffured senior – now with ‘people’ – has persisted. Rio is not one of the Grade A posers, being quietly cool rather than fawningly fashion-conscious. He’s grown out of a fair amount, moving further towards that genuinely exclusive club where players who are held as true exemplars draw the phrase ” Aww, he’s a player he is”, (or similar) from supporters home and away. He’s class and that’s been obvious for ten or twelve years. But this England thing ain’t classy.

Certain papers will have a field day with the trip to the Middle East to spice up coverage of the England game. Considering the allegedly stringent requirements of Ferdinand’s Injury Management Schedule, Rio could hardly have been taking the piss more effectively had he first run to Qatar, then scored the winner for Montenegro on the way back. That’s a YAH-BOO-SUCKS of a fairly exaggerated quality. It’s hard not to equate this with a turning his back on England, as some unfortunately very public tit-for-tat effort unworthy of too much of our attention. But gor blimey look how much attention it’s gonna get…

How we wish to calibrate this on the rebellionometer will naturally depend on where we sit on the issue of nationalistic fervour-as-community spirit(-ometer.) Whilst not understanding (and certainly not knowing in grim detail) half the nuances of half the Fergiesque mind-games that have been played out in the last few days, I do understand the following concept, arisen like a bedraggled moggy where there should be three lions; disappointment.


Go to amzn.to/SSc9To for my ebook.  Posts/exclusive material/great recommendations and an intro by Paul Mason.

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