x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Better late than never for Rio Ferdinand

Will Batchelor is delighted Ferdinand has reached a mature enough age to speak about the state of English football.

Rio Ferdinand wants an overhaul of the England football system, now that he has retired.
Rio Ferdinand wants an overhaul of the England football system, now that he has retired.

"It's going to take someone brave to come and grab it by the scruff of the neck and say: 'This is what we're going to do and we're going to take 10 years to do it.'

"We might not qualify for a World Cup or a European Championship, but I would rather not qualify for one or two tournaments knowing that in 10 years' time we will have an identity that everyone can be proud of."

How noble it was of Rio Ferdinand to make that statement.

It takes a particular kind of self-sacrifice for a recently retired international footballer to throw himself, and all England supporters, on the grenade like that.

Poor Rio must be devastated that nobody was willing to take such a brave step when he was a callow youth.

How he wishes he could have been part of what we might call the "hard-core generation" - a layer of crushed rubble upon which proper foundations can be built.

Oh, to be part of something as bold, as visionary, as that. Sadly for him, it was not to be.

Instead, young Ferdinand and his contemporaries were lumbered with that tiresome "golden generation" tag, and all the boring old sponsorship deals, glamour, wealth and foreign travel that came with it.

It was a tough break, but he soldiered on. As the old saying goes: when life serves you lemons, make lemonade. Or, depending on your contractual obligations, reach for the great, refreshing taste of Pepsi Max.

Besides, when exactly, would Ferdinand have had the chance to make this important point previously? When could he have demanded that we must rip it up and start again, no matter how great the cost to his own career?

You cannot expect him to have spoken out after England's disastrous European Championships of 2000. He was only 19, a mere babe in arms.

Likewise, it is hardly fair to expect a young pup of 23, who had recently become the world's most expensive defender via his £30 million transfer to United, to rock the boat after the disappointment of the 2002 World Cup. Or Rio at age 25, now in possession of his first League medal, to speak out after Portugal 2004.

The 2006 World Cup was a damp squib, too, but what is a slip of a 27-year-old footballer, father, movie executive, record producer, sportswear designer and charity founder supposed to do?

England did not even qualify for the European Championships of 2008, but clearly, Rio, 29, who had by now worn the captain's armband for both United and England, did not feel he had the authority to speak out.

Could he have mentioned this master plan after England's failures in both the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships? Obviously not. And even if he had wanted to, could he have found a media platform upon which to say such a thing? His Twitter account only has 4.5 million followers.

This may all sound quite unlikely, but it is the only explanation as to why Ferdinand did not demand action sooner. Unless, of course, he meant to, but just forgot.

Young Rio could be quite the scatterbrain, back in the day.

sports@thenational.ae