x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ferdinand back to his bad old ways

Unfortunately for Ferdinand and England, the picture Rio is providing now is an all too familiar view of his past. It is not one designed to induce nostalgia.

Rio Ferdinand is undergoing a rebranding process. Whereas he once provided ostentatious displays of wealth in typical footballers' destinations such as Las Vegas and Ayia Napa, the Manchester United defender recently spent a holiday in a caravan in Wales. Three years ago, he fronted a television programme that, with cringe-worthy attempts at comedy at teammates' expense, was widely derided. Now he is the publisher of an online magazine that, while greeted with initial scepticism, has generated some complimentary reviews.

It is part of an attempt to reinvent himself as a man of stature, admired for his actions as well as his obvious ability. Brand Rio accounts, in part, for his £30 million (Dh174m) fortune; an image-conscious approach has its benefits. Unfortunately for Ferdinand and England, the picture he is providing now is an all too familiar view of his past. It is not one designed to induce nostalgia. Ferdinand erred in Ukraine on Saturday, allowing a ball to bounce needlessly, prompting Robert Green to halt Artem Milevskiy illegally and resulting in the goalkeeper's dismissal in the 1-0 defeat.

On his previous international outing, he gifted Dirk Kuyt a goal in Holland's 2-2 draw in August. Factor in another mistake at the end of the Manchester derby - a bizarre attempt to scoop a pass that led to Craig Bellamy's second equaliser of the day - and Ferdinand seems increasingly error-prone. After three seasons in which he had a justifiable claim to be ranked among the world's best central defenders, this marks an unwanted reappearance of the old Rio: careless, lacking the concentration to complement his talent and liable to lapse into costly casualness at inappropriate moments.

To what extent the injury problems that have meant he has missed the majority of matches for club and country in 2009 are a cause is debateable: mental sharpness and physical fitness should go hand in hand, but if a lack of practice can account for some of his aberrations, it is not an explanation for them all. As it is, Fabio Capello has confirmed his vice-captain remains his preferred pick alongside John Terry. No wonder: the Italian has options, but too few of them are enticing. Apart from Terry and Ferdinand, the outstanding English centre-backs of the last half-decade are Jamie Carragher and Ledley King: the former is in international retirement, the latter limited by his own injury problems.

Capello has called up a succession of alternatives. Matthew Upson has proved the most consistent of the understudies, without suggesting he should be an automatic choice. Wes Brown cannot command a spot in the United team. Joleon Lescott has performed better for Everton than he has yet for England or Manchester City. The uncapped Gary Cahill is in the squad, but the demands of a Bolton defender are very different from those of his England counterparts.

Perhaps the two who provide a closest comparison to Ferdinand by offering pace and composure are unavailable. Phil Jagielka, sidelined by a cruciate ligament injury, may not play for Everton before Christmas. Jonathan Woodgate has been limited to eight caps in the decade since his England debut. Neither has Ferdinand's big-match pedigree or his experience on the international stage. It appears to matter less to United. Jonny Evans is such a frequent deputy for Ferdinand he almost counts as a regular. But the nature of the international football calendar does not permit Capello time to blood an alternative. In his latest reinvention, how he needs Ferdinand to rebrand himself as a robust and reliable defender again before the World Cup.