Ferdinand’s back means that he isn’t

Newly appointed England captain Rio Ferdinand has been struck down with another back problem, ruling him out of Manchester United’s game last night with West Ham and the Carling Cup final with Aston Villa at the weekend.

Although there has been precious little information about Ferdinand’s fitness levels coming out of Old Trafford, there is a real worry now that Ferdinand’s back problem is a chronic issue and that he, like Ledley King with his dodgy knees, is only able to play a limited role compared to what he used to in the past.

The fact that the injury happened not in a game, but in training also adds further worry about the England captain’s long term future ahead of the crucial final third of the season. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s side already short of defenders, though Nemanja Vidic made a timely return from injury in the 3-0 defeat of the Hammers last night, Ferguson’s absence for any sustained period of time would be a huge blow as United attempt to claw back the deficit they conceded to Chelsea following their 3-1 defeat at Goodison Park at the weekend.

It has been rumoured in the British press for some time that Ferdinand’s back injury was far worse than has been reported at Old Trafford. There have been unconfirmed reports, though they do seem to bear more than a semblance of truth, that Ferdinand has been regularly attending a specialist clinic to try and alleviate some of the problems he is facing with his back. Chiefly because the injury is one that is not going to improve with an operation or any form of physiotherapy. Like Ledley King, Ferdinand is rumoured to have a chronic problem, that can only be managed on a day to day, week to week basis.

This, for me, underlines the folly of making him England captain. While a fully fit, in form Ferdinand is one of the best defenders in the world and a clear choice as England captain after John Terry’s ignominious demotion, the fact is his form has been poor (for both club and country) for the past twelve months, if not more. His injury record during that period is extremely worrying and many critics feel that the passage of time, or his back problem, has contributed to him losing at least half a yard of pace, maybe more. Certainly the way a half fit Fernando Torres breezed past him at Anfield with ease to score Liverpool’s first a few months back won’t have inspired great confidence amongst the Manchester United and England faithful.

This latest injury setback for the United man has come at the worst possible time. Having been awarded the captaincy, I, like many England fans, was hoping to see the Ferdinand of old emerge from this period of injury, poor form and suspension to cement his standing as one of the best defenders in the world, find his best form and lead the country to South Africa. Now I fear that taking him to South Africa at all may well be a liability.

Let us understand something, if Fabio Capello won’t pick Michael Owen or Ledley King due to their injuries or a lack of games, or both, then how can he give Ferdinand the captaincy and a guaranteed place on the plane? To me it doesn’t make sense. Yes on his day and fully fit, Ferdinand is a fantastic player and worthy England captain. But so is Michael Owen and Michael Owen has played more times for Manchester United in the past month or so than Rio Ferdinand. Michael Owen has made 5 starts for United in the league and come on as a sub 14 times. Ferdinand has started just 6 games. Ferdinand has played 11 games this season, Owen 10 and has played 20 times as a sub and scored 8 goals. Wes Brown in comparison has played 24 times for United in total. More than double Ferdinand’s total, and what is more, I’d venture he is in better form than Ferdinand too.

This is no great calling for Steven Gerrard to be named England captain (I personally believe Gerrard will play better without that responsibility, I’d rather see it given to someone like Lampard or Rooney) but I cannot follow Capello’s logic. He stresses the importance of players playing every week, being in form, fit and strong for the finals, yet names a captain who has not done any of these things this season and who could have a chronic back injury that could flare up at any time and rule him out of the World Cup tournament completely.

As good a player as Ferdinand could be, I don’t think that is a wise risk to take.

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