Early Doors

Rio shouldn’t count his chickens

Early Doors

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Rio Ferdinand has 'done a Michael Ballack' by insisting Steven Gerrard is merely keeping the England captaincy warm for his return.

The Manchester United defender was heartbreakingly denied the chance to appear at England's ill-fated World Cup campaign by a challenge from the mercifully-exiled Emile Heskey, who arguably should have been put down in January.

Gerrard took the armband and that he was one of England's better players despite turning in moderate performances highlighted just how poor they were.

But since the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign kicked in - and before, when Gerrard scored twice to down Hungary in a friendly - the Liverpool skipper has been in fine form, pulling the strings as England eased to comfortable wins over Bulgaria and Switzerland.

In a situation similar to Germany - where Ballack, who missed the finals through injury, insisted he would reclaim the armband from Philipp Lahm - Rio still believes he is Fabio Capello's number one.

While his leadership qualities should not be doubted - England were largely dominant when he led them out during World Cup qualifying, winning nine out of 10 matches - Rio faces a battle to even make the team.

Not that he has suddenly become a bad player.

United are desperate to win something, anything, as they try to bat away the threat of big-spending City and claw back the dominance of champions Chelsea.

United look significantly less assured at the back when Rio is absent as, while Jonny Evans is a promising partner for Nemanja Vidic, he is still little more than a prospect.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who firmly believes a player's loyalty and responsibility should lie with his club first and foremost, will be acutely aware of how important it is to protect Rio's chronic back injury between the big matches.

And with every match in every competition crucially important to United, we all know when the suitable rest times occur.

The last thing Ferguson will want - or countenance - is an aggravation of an existing condition that often has ramifications on the rest of a player's body: how many times have leg, groin and ankle injuries been tracked to back problems?

While it might not please fans of international football (and the increasingly fickle ED is a fan of international football today), Ferguson's attitude has been proven by the extension of the careers of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with the emergence of Gary Neville as union rep since his body started to fail additional evidence in Fergie's favour.

So while Rio may not exactly be dropped, there is a good chance he may have little say in the rekindling of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott's former Everton partnership.

Warning to Rio - Ballack won the battle over the captaincy, but was still told he couldn't get into the team.

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Speaking of international football's unpopularity with the big clubs, FIFA has a great chance to stamp some firm but fair authority on the row bubbling regarding August's friendly matches.

Following Harry Redknapp and Louis van Gaal's comments, Bayern bigmouth Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is leading the revolt against the decision to host a gaggle of games soon after the World Cup ended.

While he has a point - it's absurd that players denied a summer break should be thrown into action before they have even started pre-season with their clubs - the attempts by clubs to roll back international football should be resisted.

There absolutely has to be international football outside the do-or-die context of qualifying and tournament matches: coaches need to test the aptitude of their selectable players to the different demands of national team football, while being able to prepare for upcoming opponents against sides of similar style and ability.

Some common sense - often shunned by football authorities - would be helpful though.

FIFA should stand strong on the number of games teams are required to play. But the European Clubs' Association - fronted by Rummenigge - and their equivalents across the confederations should be invited to vote on when their national teams should be called into action.

And while you're at it, standardise official tournaments to limit the lunacy of a January African Cup of Nations, every two years, that does little other than knacker out the players and already-brassic federations.

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ROO SLEAZE UPDATE: "Sleazeball Wayne Rooney pesters a busty blonde for sex while on the prowl at a drunken party. The soccer rat tried it on with Samii Darnley at a (yadder yadder yadder)" - The Sun, along several other tabloids, shows little sign of letting up their attempts to destroy Rooney, as every conversation with a woman is reported from here to eternity as a sleazy attempt to procure hand relief from a 'stunna' or 'public school-educated hooker'. Heaven knows what they'll report if he is snapped stroking an actual dog...

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Absolutely. Yes. We have to qualify first of course but after that I will be too old. I want to enjoy my life as a pensioner." Capello admits he would prefer life in a bungalow in Whitby to continuing as national team manager after Euro 2012.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Every four hours you hear the call to prayer. The streets are crazy, always full of traffic with no let up: you get trapped. It's a big change but I'm being treated really well." - Guti forgets just how crazed his native Madrid can be as he tries to adapt to life in Istanbul.

COMING UP: The latest stage of the Vuelta a Espana, a 175-kilometre ride from Andorra to Lleida, kicks off later this morning, while the US Open is now well into its second week. We are also covering the Shanghai Masters, as snooker tries to move on from the John Higgins affair. Stay up-to-date on all three events today either with our live text commentary or watch it on British Eurosport or via the Eurosport Player.

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