With Martin Kelly’s promotion to the England squad, prompted by a recent Gary Cahill injury brought on by a c***ish push by Mertens, the press have been putting the sword into Hodgson for his declaration that it was for “football reasons” he chose the Liverpool full-back above Ferdinand, who many think should be a first-choice anyway. For those of you, football fan or not, living under a rock for the past year, the surrounding controversy originates from John Terry allegedly racially assaulting Rio’s brother, Anton, in a Premiership match in October, for which Terry is due in court shortly after the European Championships following a suspension of the trial.
It is fairly clear that this decision was not made for what most would hold to be ”football reasons”. For, while he is a little past his best in ability and physical condition, Ferdinand still had a good season for United. With 30 league appearances, he was central in both respects to a United defence that was second only to City in its parsimony (and they’ve got Joe bloody Hart between the sticks) – their mere 33 goals conceded a good seven better than the next best defences, Liverpool and Everton. This in addition to an impressive England career, comprising 81 caps. Martin Kelly on the other hand has a mere five minutes of international experience (in the Norway friendly), and just a dozen solid if unspectacular Premiership appearances for a mediocre Liverpool team this season.
So it’s understandable why the “football reasons” excuse is being so lambasted by the press and public. But football is not played in isolation by automatons, and it is a team game. So there is no concrete difference between “football reasons” and supposedly non-football reasons.
Seems obvious but some could do well to remember that football is a team game; not one won by individuals. That’s why Messi, and all the other stars, haven’t taken Argentina to much greater triumphs recently; why Holland and Spain, until recently at least, have had relatively average records in major championships; and why Real’s Galacticos failed to really gel for much of the time until the ‘Special One’ came in to instil a team ethic and winning mentality. And, on the other hand, team spirit is a large reason why Greece won Euro 2004 despite deep mediocrity; why Germany have such a strong record; and, more recently, why Chelsea won the Champions League despite (or because of) setting up trench lines approximately 30 metres from goal from the Quarter-final onwards.
The typical counter-argument to the idea Terry and Ferdinand should be separated for team benefit runs that everybody has to work with people they don’t like, so the pair – and all others – should just get on with it. While the analogy is somewhat fair, people rarely have to work with people they suspect to be racist to them. A fairly toxic relationship, I think you’ll agree. If so, it follows that Hodgson was correct in not bringing both players. Also, normal office workers (such as myself) do not have to live with their colleagues for several weeks with the prying, expectant eyes of a nation scrutinising their every move, and obviously putting strain on the camp. The two centre-halves, in particular, need to be on at least ok terms, as this is a partnership that requires constant communication, often frenzied to the point of ‘bossing about’ and lambasting for that missed challenge which led to the goal.
Another argument is that John Terry should stand down at least temporarily on principle, as would, so the argument runs, any ‘normal’ worker be suspended pending allegations of unprofessionalism. But if Terry doesn’t think he’s done wrong (as he presumably doesn’t), then why should he volunteer himself out of one of the biggest tournaments of his career? There’s certainly some weight to the idea the trial should not have been suspended until after the Euros (and I’d be inclined to agree), but regardless, this is not Hodgson’s fault nor his responsibility. He’s just been parachuted into this difficult situation and wisely decided Terry and Ferdinand couldn’t both go. Surely, Terry’s entitled to the same rights as any other British citizen – that of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – so why shouldn’t he be in contention for the spot? Whatever you think of Hodgson, at the end of the day (to use an appropriate cliché), he is the manager, and one of many years experience; not any of us mere mortals. And nor is he a moral/legal arbitrator. Remember, he’s dealing with people who kick some glorified pigs bladder around for living, hoping to shepherd it into an outside cupboard, for Pete’s sake…
At first, the decision to not take Ferdinand was even just about passable as one of individual footballing merit. Having won the league, Lescott was a starter for most people; Cahill another fairly strong choice; Terry over the hill but still potentially world class; and Jones inexperienced but talented and versatile. (I would have slightly preferred Ferdinand to Terry, but only slightly, and Terry’s performance on Monday went some way to justifying his inclusion.) It was only when Cahill got injured and Kelly was brought in that the issue really blew up. And who could really foresee a player in a friendly being a twat and cynically pushing a defender into a keeper, breaking his jaw (and Barry’s injury that meant Jagielka’s inclusion)? And could Hodgson reasonably predict Micah Richards being a sanctimonious fool and refusing to go on the reserve list? I don’t think so.
Of course, you could press the point that Hodgson should have been plainly honest in the first place. But, remember, it wasn’t initially such an issue (hindsight is a wonderful thing). And the voracious reaction of the press to the current situation, and past tradition, doesn’t exactly suggest they (/we) would have been considered in wading through the easy, superficial lines of attack to the perfectly reasonable justification beneath. Put bluntly, it was a white lie, just one that unfortunately got found out. But unless you’ve never told a little, ostensibly harmless untruth such as ‘no, you don’t look fat in that, love’ or ‘no, I am not at the pub’, I don’t think you can take the moral high-ground here.
So, blame everyone, no-one, Mertens, but don’t blame Hodgson for anything more than picking a slightly worse player. Nor blame Terry…or not yet, anyway…