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Ferdinand and Terry leave huge void to fill

Monday, 1 October 2012 - 5:32pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Hodgson has been proved correct but England have a crisis at centre-back with no suitable replacements.

As he sat watching Manchester United lose to Tottenham from the Old Trafford directors' box on Saturday, Roy Hodgson would have felt vindicated by his decision to cite 'football reasons' for overlooking Rio Ferdinand from England selection.

In my opinion, Ferdinand has been the best defender in the history of the Premier League and, while his loss of pace means he is no longer a great player, he is still a very good one. But Rio's performance during United's 3-2 defeat at the weekend, in front of Hodgson, highlighted that, just like everybody before him, Father Time had caught up with a player who was once rightly the most expensive defender in the world.

Even though I disagreed with Hodgson's decision not to take Ferdinand to Euro 2012, when the manager claimed it was a purely football-based choice rather than off-field issues relating to the court case involving John Terry and Rio's brother, Anton, there can be no doubt that Saturday highlighted the glaring deficiencies that are now compromising Ferdinand's game. His loss of pace is the crucial factor and, with United playing poorly at the moment, there is nowhere for Rio to hide his shortcomings.

But while Hodgson is unlikely to turn the clock back following the announcement of Terry's international retirement by calling on Ferdinand when he names his squad on Thursday for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland, the harsh reality for the England manager is that there is absolutely nobody who presently comes close to matching Ferdinand and Terry in their prime.

The cupboard is bare for England and it would be a nonsense to suggest there are three or four candidates capable of stepping up to the plate. Most of them can't even get a game for their clubs at the moment, never mind England!

Joleon Lescott looks like he might not get a new contract at Manchester City, Phil Jagielka is simply a very good club player at Everton and the people at Chelsea must have doubts about Gary Cahill if David Luiz is keeping him out of the team. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling haven't progressed as hoped at United, notwithstanding the injuries both have suffered, while Steven Caulker at Tottenham is another maybe.

But Rio Ferdinand, with his 34th birthday approaching next month, is hardly the future and that reality was brutally exposed against Tottenham.

Rio was once one of the best defenders in the world. But the injuries that have stalked him in recent seasons, particularly his back problem, have led to the situation where he now finds himself in real trouble if he progresses beyond the 18-yard line. If he was able to play every game defending the edge of the 18-yard box, as Chelsea did against Barcelona in the Nou Camp last season, Rio would be able to get the cigars out and play in cruise control. But he has to play a higher line for United because they are an attacking side and that means he is vulnerable whenever he comes up against somebody with pace.

For Tottenham's second goal at the weekend, Gareth Bale breezed past Rio before scoring, but in fairness to Ferdinand, Bale is capable of doing that to anybody. Still, Bale would not have done that to a fit and flying Ferdinand five years ago. Of greater concern was the way Ferdinand was beaten by Jermain Defoe for Tottenham's third goal, when Rio showed the Spurs forward the line and allowed him to cut inside.

If United sign a centre-half with the blinding pace that Ferdinand once possessed, then it would cover up his weaknesses, but I don't see that happening with Sir Alex Ferguson having the likes of Jones, Smalling and Nemanja Vidic in his ranks once they return from injury.

Ferdinand's problems will not go away and the worry for United is that they cannot rely on any of their defenders at the moment but the biggest issues are at centre-half. I don't recall any team in the Premier League era winning the title without having at least one magnificent centre-half. Vincent Kompany, Vidic and Terry have all ticked that box for their respective teams in recent seasons, but you can go back further to the likes of Sol Campbell, Jaap Stam, Tony Adams, Colin Hendry, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister.

Ferdinand was once in that bracket, but his injuries, and those that are also beginning to affect Vidic, have left United with real problems. And even though Hodgson will feel he has been proved right about Ferdinand, he will not take any satisfaction from the players he must now choose from to fill the void left by the former England captain.

 




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