The Rio debate

A former colleague told me that I am getting more miserable by the hour in my old age, after I tweeted the other day in irritation at having to take off a belt that has never previously beeped at airport security on the grounds that ‘we aren’t interested in the metal: you might be hiding something behind it”. Miserable, maybe; uncomprehending, more like. More and more stuff in the world, I just don’t seem to get. (The fact that on my return journey, I was fine leaving the belt on again, didn’t help.)

Another thing I just don’t understand is the furore over Rio Ferdinand – or more accurately, the rush to condemn Roy Hodgson for not having picked him, or to analyse the reasons why he didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong: to say that I am not a fan of John Terry would be to understate my position no less than Roman Abramovich would be his, were he to tell you he wasn’t short of a bob: I think he’s one of the least appealing people on the planet, and if there were any opportunity to influence his not being selected for anything other than a prison line-up, I’d be there with my hand up. But what the reasons are for the England manager deciding to pick him, or not to pick anyone else, are entirely the manager’s issue. And for everyone to run around speculating on them, and criticising them on the assumption that they are one thing rather than another, is plain odd.

Sure, everyone’s got an opinion who should be in the England team and who shouldn’t. But Hodgson’s the person in charge of selection, and so Hodgson selects. If his selections prove to be rubbish and we lose very game, then people can have a pop: we can all in hindsight say that we’d have said at the time that we’d have done something else had we been in charge. But how does saying it now help?

Rio Ferdinand might be the best ball-playing centre back since Alan Hansen, and that may make him extraordinary unlucky not to be going. I have a view on both, just as I do on whether or not I’d have picked him myself; and it may or may not differ from yours. But who cares? Hodgson is picking the side, and he’s picked the one he thinks is most likely to win – whether for reasons of squad harmony, or not. So for people to say, a la (normally excellent) Henry Winter, that it is ‘insulting’, or a la Jamie Moralee (Rio’s adviser) that it is “disrespectful” is just a lot of rot. No-one’s asking Roy Hodgson to pick the eleven best players in the country, but instead what he considers the best unit, which is different. If it were all about choosing the best eleven individuals in England, then we could get a computer to do it (and sport would be exceedingly dull).

The fact is that if Roy Hodgson’s England outperform in Ukraine – if (whisper it quietly) they actually exceeded expectations for once and won the thing – then everyone (even those who don’t think he should be manager in the first place) would say what a legend the man was, how brave he was to make the difficult choices he did, and how he got it right. An unlikely scenario, I grant you – but surely one the whole country would like to see; and one made more unlikely still by what can only be damaging speculation.

People always wonder why our teams tend to under perform. Maybe it’s because they’re never given a chance by people who can too easily crow “I told you so” when it all goes wrong, and conveniently forget their attacks on the bloke in charge if it all goes right?

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