Over the years, the ‘boo boys’ have targeted a few members of the England team for particular attention. Ashley Cole was often a target, as was Frank Lampard, and even going back a few years, the now ‘sainted’ David Beckham was treated to torrents of abuse. Throughout that time however, the feelings were that it was an isolated minority of fans, and that the players were largely protective of each other.
That solidarity appeared to have crumbled after England’s victory over San Marino on Friday however, when captain Steven Gerrard apparently declared that the fans had every right to "show their frustration" over the Manchester United defender’s choice to quit the squad, due to it not being part of his required ‘fitness regime’ and then jetting off to Doha to offer punditry on the game for a TV station.
Although not particularly noticeable via the television coverage, apparently aggressive chants about Ferdinand’s lack of dedication to the cause abounded at the stadium, and Gerrard was clearly aware of them. Whilst it would have been easy for the captain to trot out a sympathetic line in support of his erstwhile team-mate, he eschewed that, and offered what appeared to be a frank and honest opinion. In fairness to Gerrard’s approach, it has to be said that it seems strange that a fitness regime that precludes training and playing football, would allow for a multi-hour flight to Qatar, and back again, even though I’m sure he wasn’t squeezed into a cattle-class seat.
Still, it must be said that I’m no fitness expert, and I suspect neither is Gerrard. The whole point of the general disdain however isn’t that Ferdinand missed the match, given his age and injury history, that would hardly have been surprising. It’s that for a player whose wealth must already be in the ‘substantial’ range, he chose to jet across to the Persian Gulf for a bit more dosh, instead of pitching in for his country. The fans’ received perception is of a player thinking money is more important than representing your country. It just doesn’t resonate well with people who have shelled out hard earned money to travel and support the team.
It’s not a very pleasant situation to hear the captain of the national team condoning the abuse dished out to a fellow player, but in this instance, there’s probably an element of respect due to Gerrard. Rather than just mouthing platitudes and blarney, he stated an opinion on the matter.
His choice to distance himself from the England team is probably the final nail in the coffin of Ferdinand’s international career. There’ll be no ‘Rio to Rio’ headline punning next year – always assuming England get there. All in all, it’s a sad ending to an 81 cap career, but as Gerrard went on to say of Ferdinand,”he’s made his decision and we need to respect that.”