Rio jumped into retirement before England could push him, says Mills

David Beckham,, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen for England in 2002
David Beckham,, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen for England in 2002
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Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has called time on his England career. Former Leeds team-mate Danny Mills tells Leon Wobischall he is not surprised.

DANNY MILLS insists the decision of ex-Leeds United team-mate Rio Ferdinand to announce his international retirement confirmed the inevitable following the furore of his controversial withdrawal from two England squads in March.

The Manchester United defender, 34, announced his decision ahead of Roy Hodgson naming his England squad today for the forthcoming friendlies against Republic of Ireland and Brazil, expressing a desire to concentrate on his club career.

Mindful that he received a barrage of criticism from fans and pundits after withdrawing from the squads for the crucial World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro – citing “an intricate and pre-planned training regime” as his reason – a touch of pragmatism may also have been involved.

Especially with the centre-half also set to sign a new contract at Old Trafford deal this summer.

Many England fans who travelled to Serravalle and Podgorica and reserved plenty of vitriol for Ferdinand won’t be lamenting his move.

His decision to make a 15-hour round trip to Dubai in order to carry out some punditry for Al Jazeera, fresh from snubbing England, cut deep with many and effectively sounded the death knell to his international career.

Mills, who played in all five games alongside Ferdinand at the 2002 World Cup when both were Leeds players, said: “I don’t think it’s a great surprise after what happened last time.

“Rio obviously wanted to be in the squads, then realised with all his rehabilitation, he wasn’t going to be able to play back-to-back games.

“That effectively ruled him out of anymore double headers if you like and possibly also ruled him out of tournament football for England.

“He possibly would have made himself available for the next friendlies and the games in the summer, but he’s probably looked at it and thought actually, after what happened last time, the chances are Roy Hodgson may not select him.

“So maybe Rio has done the right thing, has retired before there is a chance that he doesn’t get selected.”

Many hardened England fans may say good riddance to Ferdinand, given his snub last month, but equally what cannot be doubted is that it leaves the Three Lions deficient in a department which isn’t exactly brimful of international talent.

A number of current contenders for spots in the heart of defence for England aren’t even regulars for their clubs – Chris Smalling, Joleon Lescott and Steven Caulker to name but three, with the lack of game-time for John Terry also precluding any serious hopes of a sensational return to the international fold.

It’s a far cry from Ferdinand’s pomp with England and no-one knows that better than Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, kept out of the England team for the best part of a decade by the likes of Ferdinand, Terry and Sol Campbell.

Carragher, 35, is in no doubt he would have earned significantly more than his 38 caps had Ferdinand not been around. He said: “If he’d retired years ago, I might have got a few more games!”

Paying tribute, the Reds veteran, who will retire at the end of the season, said: “Rio has been a great player. He’s a similar age to me, so it was always going to come up (competition for places) at one time or another.

“He and John Terry were the cornerstones of the England side for 10 years – which made it difficult for me to get in – but are two great players and I wish him well.”

Offering his thoughts, Harry Redknapp, in charge of West Ham when Ferdinand made his England debut as a teenager in the friendly with Cameroon at Wembley in November 1997, says he always knew the stylish Londoner was destined to become one of the best defenders in the world from a young age.

Ferdinand picked up 10 full caps under his watch and a further 17 during his time with Leeds after sealing an £18m move in November 2000, with his only competitive defeat in that spell coming in the World Cup quarter-final loss to Brazil in June 2002.

The vast majority of Ferdinand’s caps have arrived during his time at Old Trafford – 54 in total – with the defender linking up with the Red Devils somewhat belatedly.

Redknapp said: “We knew from day one he (Ferdinand) was going to be a special player. He was lightning quick and graceful on the ball.

“He had everything. I loaned him to Bournemouth and Man United came in. (Chairman) Martin Edwards rang Bournemouth football club, he rang Mel Machin who was the manager and asked Mel how much he wanted for the young centre-half.

“They’d seen him play on the Saturday at Rochdale or somewhere and Mel said ‘well he’s only on loan, he belongs to West Ham’. Martin Edwards didn’t realise that.

“He came on and wanted to buy him and I said ‘he hasn’t got a price, he’ll be the best defender in Europe one day’. Eventually he ended up at Man Utd but for an awful lot of money.”

On taking his decision, Ferdinand, one of four Leeds players in the 2002 World Cup party along with Mills, Robbie Fowler and Nigel Martyn , said: “At the age of 34, I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let the younger players come through, which allows me to concentrate on my club career. The team looks in great shape and there is an influx of young, talented players coming through the ranks which bodes well for the future.”

England chief Hodgson, contacted personally by Ferdinand of his decision, added: “I appreciated the call from Rio to inform me of his decision, which clearly he had spent much time considering before reaching this point. I wish him all the best in his club career.”