IF IT hadn’t have been for those pesky intricate pre-planned programmes, Rio Ferdinand would be lining up for England this week.
Well, that’s if you believe the Manchester United defender’s footballing reason for withdrawing from Roy Hodgson’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying double header in San Marino and Montenegro.
At 34, Ferdinand has in effect become the latest in an increasingly long line of players to pen an international retirement letter.
What was once considered sacrilege is now becoming the norm – for England men to draw their own line under their national team careers.
Back in the old days players kept themselves open for selection until they discovered otherwise.
But that’s what they are. The old days.
Now the demands of the Premier League and, for the very best players, the additional scrutiny of the Champions League, along with more competitive internationals than ever before, is prompting players to rule themselves out for their country.
Paul Scholes arguably set the trend in 2004 when, as a high-profile England regular, he took the surprising decision to retire from international football aged just 29.
Scholes initially suggested it was to help preserve his limbs for United duty – which, given he is poised to win his 11th Premier League title, wasn’t a bad call.
But, years after his announcement, Scholes revealed he was as much annoyed with his England team-mates as the incessant workload.
“I just got fed up,” he said. “When you are going to a team, you want to be part of a team and play well, but there are individuals who are after personal glory.
“When there is a simple pass of 10 yards, they might try and smack it 80 yards. They will do things to try and get themselves noticed.
“I always felt players at clubs like your Aston Villas try to use England as a way to get to a top club. Which, I don’t know, you feel, ‘Are they there for the right reason?’ I think they are very selfish people.
“That is the biggest problem with English players – most of them are too selfish.”
Of course, players can change their minds. While Scholes couldn’t be persuaded to come out of retirement for the 2010 World Cup, Fabio Capello was more successful with Jamie Carragher.
The Liverpool defender had quit in 2007 having grown disillusioned that his versatility had seen him fall way down the pecking order in his preferred centre-back position.
He took exception to criticism from one radio station, phoning up to state on air: “Don’t ever call me a bottler on radio with all those thousands of people listening. I’ve had the stomach to fight for my place for eight years.”
Carragher, though, was brutally honest when assessing his England career.
“I’ve never given less than 100% in any game,” he said in his 2008 autobiography. “’Despite this, whenever I returned home from disappointing England experiences one unshakeable, overriding thought pushed itself to the forefront of my mind, no matter how much the rest of the nation mourned. ‘At least it wasn’t Liverpool,’ I’d repeat to myself, over and over.
“Defeats wearing an England shirt never hurt me in the same way as losing with my club. Losing felt like a disappointment rather than a calamity. I was never in love with playing for England in the first place.”
Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Carragher accepting the invitation to return for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after an injury crisis in defence, although it was a decision once again made with blunt pragmatism.
“The World Cup and Champions League are the highest levels of football,” said Carragher. “I’m not getting any younger and Liverpool have no Champions League football next season.”
Some call it a day with their country for nothing to do with football.
Three years ago, Wayne Bridge turned his back on his England career after his position was made ‘untenable and potentially divisive’ by then national team skipper John Terry’s alleged affair with Bridge’s former partner, Vanessa Perroncel.
Terry, meanwhile, jumped before he was probably pushed in September ahead of being banned for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
Then there are those whose international retirements barely registered. Luke Young played seven times for England when, on being handed a recall by Fabio Capello in 2009, it emerged he had actually quit earlier in the year.
Paul Robinson became fed up at being third-choice goalkeeper while, back in 1997, Chris Sutton was so offended at being named in an England B team that he quit having won just a solitary cap.
England isn’t the only country where players call it quits, although often they are because of more extreme reasons.
When Johan Cruyff famously quit the Holland team on the eve of the 1978 World Cup, he claimed it was in protest at the military dictatorship in Argentina where the finals were to be held.
However, it later emerged a kidnap threat had been made against him and that was the reason for his retirement.
Neil Lennon’s statement he would play for a team representing a united Ireland prompted a death threat from a paramilitary gang in Ireland that eventually prompted the Northern Irishman to stop playing for his country.
Roy Keane, though, simply couldn’t stand what he perceived as a lack of professionalism in the Republic of Ireland’s pre-World Cup training regime and, having told manager Mick McCarthy as much, flew home.
Yet the rigours of the Premier League are now beginning to impact on the foreign contingent. Nemanja Vidic and Park Ji-Sung quit Serbia and South Korea while at Old Trafford, and only last year Steven Pienaar retired from the South Africa team at the age of 30.
As for Ferdinand and a fitness regime designed to extend his club career, Phil Neville was particularly prescient when commenting more than five years ago on former United team-mate Scholes.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if you see other players going down that route,” said the Everton skipper. “The demands are such that something has got to give.
“You’re seeing top-class Premiership players retiring from international football when they’ve still got their best years ahead of them.
“For me, playing for England is still the pinnacle and always will be.
“But sometimes in life something’s got to give and for certain players it’s international football.”