By Oliver Platt
Rio Ferdinand might have dreamed of his England career ending in glory at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev or the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro; perhaps he would have settled simply for one last emotional night at Wembley. It is safe to say, anyway, that a London Underground train out of Bond Street would not have been high up the list.
It was there that the Football Association's disastrous handling of a delicate situation reached a surreal new low when, on October 3 last year, one newspaper reported that Roy Hodgson had told commuters that Ferdinand's international days were over.
Hodgson denied the Daily Mirror report the next day, claiming that he had only said that the Manchester United defender would not be in his next squad, but his subsequent apology to Ferdinand and the lack of a more strongly-worded FA denial spoke volumes.
As much as the 34-year-old deserves his recall to the Three Lions squad, he might not have been expecting it. Ferdinand accepted Hodgson's apology following the Tube incident and as recently as last month maintained that he would "pack his bags and go straight there" if he was selected again. He did not sound particularly hopeful. "It is what it is. I'm not being picked."
Ferdinand, who has been said to have matured at various points in his career, was guilty of very poor judgement in condoning the infamous 'choc ice' tweet directed at Ashley Cole. In recent weeks he has comically applauded Cuneyt Cakir following Manchester United's Champions League exit and appeared to barge into Fernando Torres during an FA Cup clash with Chelsea.
More justifiable was his anger with his omission from Hodgson's squad for Euro 2012, especially after the new manager's insistence that he was ignored for "footballing reasons" was exposed when Liverpool youngster Martin Kelly replaced the injured Cahill.
"Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all ageing but they go to the tournament," Ferdinand's representative, Jamie Moralee, raged. "Why is Rio different? To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times [in this manner] is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and the FA as far as I am concerned."
Rio was different, of course, because of John Terry. The Chelsea captain had been stripped of the England armband by the FA but, with investigations regarding his alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand looming after the tournament, was included in the party that travelled to Poland and Ukraine.
Hodgson, you can imagine, simply wanted to avoid the drama that had plagued England camps at previous tournaments and judged Terry to be the better defender, but for Ferdinand to miss out for those reasons was brutally unfair.
The subsequent frostiness has cost England their best central defender for the opening matches of World Cup 2014 qualification.
"Rio should not have been left out in the first place," former Manchester United and England defender Gary Pallister told Goal.com. "He was not just the outstanding candidate to come back in the squad, but he remains England's best central defender. John Terry has been just as influential for Chelsea as Rio has for Manchester United, but consistently [Ferdinand] has been the best on the international stage.
"Hodgson had said he had left him out for 'footballing reasons' but I don't think we ever quite got to the truth because all kinds of things were happening behind the scenes. There was talk that fitness was the issue and he couldn't be trusted to play two games in a week.
"I had a back problem towards the end of my career and I know how debilitating it can be, but Rio is made of strong stuff. I never doubted he would adapt and carry on playing at the highest level."
It is true that a major tournament would present Ferdinand with a different challenge; Sir Alex Ferguson has largely ensured that both he and Nemanja Vidic receive regular breaks and Ferdinand would need to dig deep to see through such a stop-start schedule. He has modified his game over the past couple of seasons, though, and now relies on his experience and instincts as much as he once did his remarkable physical tools.
"It is also reward for Rio's passion for his country," Pallister added. "A lot of players would have thrown their toys out the pram after being snubbed and retire from international football, but he never did that. He kept his counsel and proved that he still has the ability, fitness and hunger.
"A lot will happen between now and the World Cup finals in Brazil next year but Rio won't let anyone down. There is a symmetry to Rio perhaps ending his international career in Rio, but we'll have to wait and see." It would be some improvement on Bond Street.