Why Rio Ferdinand should have played for England

As a late-thirty-something it’s not easy to get my head around the fact that there are actual real-life adults who don’t know anything about life before the Premier League. 

These same young people might not know how a cassette tape works either; and this reminds me that recently I re-listened to a dusty old tape recording of myself being interviewed on BBC Radio Suffolk, back in the halcyon summer days of 1990. 

I was an England Schoolboys player at the time, and in it I talk about my ambitions to make the grade at Arsenal. Listening back I cringe at my phoney London accent, but it’s plainly clear from my teenage words that the ultimate goal was (of course) to represent England at senior level one day. 

That was the dream; the absolute pinnacle. Anyone from my generation or before would have felt exactly the same. 

I wonder how many football-loving lads born after 1990 hold that same view? I suspect many would see ‘playing in the Champions League’ as more prestigious. 

The truth is here in England, footballers have been made to feel that playing for their country is a chore. 

In the good old days, Englishmen would have walked over hot coals to wear the Three Lions and no one could have persuaded them otherwise. These days, clubs simply wouldn’t let it happen. 

In fact it feels like they do their utmost to brainwash players into believing that international football is nothing but a nuisance, and an unwanted distraction. 

Life revolves around the greatest league on Earth. Nothing else can ever be as important.  

The majority of footballers don’t see it in that black and white way thankfully, but that doesn’t prevent dozens of unnecessary club-provoked pull-outs regardless.

In fact in 2013, if you have an “intricate pre-planned training and medical programme” set out by your club, it’s apparently a perfectly acceptable reason to skip two crucially important World Cup qualifiers. 

I mean come on. Seriously?!  If that’s a legitimate excuse to miss a match of genuine significance, then international football is an even more precarious position than I thought. That Rio Ferdinand has since headed over to Qatar to work as a pundit on the very game he should be playing in makes even more of a mockery of the situation. 

Such is their power, Premier League clubs feel like they can ride roughshod over whoever they want. 

It’s not necessarily the players’ fault. They’re paid such vast amounts of money by their employers that they’d be fools to rub their clubs up the wrong way. 

Even an experienced player of Rio Ferdinand’s standing, one of the wealthiest players on the planet, can do little about it. If he wants an extension to his contract, he knows he has to toe the line. 

Rio wants to play and can look after himself, along with the likes of Paul Scholes and Ben Foster, who openly admitted they didn’t fancy playing for England anymore. 

It’s the new generation of players; the ones who don’t know how the world existed without the internet, mobile phones or the Premier League, who I worry about the most. 

They don’t know any different. To them, with all the negativity that surrounds it international football must seem like a persistent annoyance that won’t ever quite go away. International breaks bring about collective groans up and down the land, and that’s the environment they’ve been brought up in. 

Doesn’t the Premier League have a responsibility to the country in which it belongs? 

What hope does England have of ever winning the World Cup, when most clubs in its own league would prefer it they didn’t even enter the competition?

Playing for your country has to remain the ultimate ambition for any footballer. 

If it isn’t, what’s it all about? OK club medals, yes. Then what, the money? 

Yes kids the Premier League is sexy, but don’t be hoodwinked into believing it’s the pinnacle, because it’s not. 

Football is about pride and soul, and there’s surely nothing that can touch the feeling of seeing your country win the World Cup. Just ask your grandparents, who were around in 1966. 

By being so short-sighted we’re frittering away any feint chance we might have of savouring a famous repeat. 

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Read more from the former professional footballer turned journalist Adrian Clarke