When England were surprisingly defeated 0-2 by the United States in a friendly match played in Massachusetts on June 9, 1993, a little bit of history was created. For the first time since the inaugural international against Scotland in 1892, England was captained by a black player in former Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince.
Rio Ferdinand is now set to become the first coloured player to skipper England in a World Cup game and it will again be against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12. Ferdinand says that he is both mentally and physically ready to do the job after enduring an injury hit season in the Premier League. The 31 year old centre back made only 21 club appearances in a campaign disrupted by back injury.
He is totally confident however “All being well I’ll be in tip top condition come the first game. I’m training hard and have three weeks to get into the World Cup groove. “How can I not be refreshed? I’m used to playing 40, 50 games a season” Fitness permitting, Ferdinand will lead England in his fourth World Cup tournament.
Speaking before the final warm up on home soil against Mexico at Wembley he said “I have not played anywhere near that amount this year, so I will be going out to South Africa in good condition, I am definitely buzzing. I spoke to my missus this morning and my little boys demanded to have England flags on the car and stuff like that. We can’t wait to get into fever pitch.”
Ferdinand was an unused squad member 12 years ago in France when England were knocked out in the second round on penalties by Argentina. He did however feature in the following two tournaments in 2002 and 2006 where England suffered quarter-finals losses to Brazil and Portugal. And he will use the disappointment of those exits to guide his side in South Africa, while looking to build on the confidence brought by a qualifying campaign where the only dropped points came with a 1-0 defeat against Ukraine after qualification had already been assured.
“There is a confidence” continued Ferdinand “but maybe we have been a bit naive in the past and got ourselves caught up in all the emotion that surrounds our country going to a massive tournament. People say we are going to win it but we have respect for the other nations as well” he admitted. “Being captain is a fantastic honour and a responsibility that I warm to but it is not something that is going to change me. I will conduct myself in exactly the same way”
“Even before I was made captain, the younger players knew I was an easy going guy who they can approach which in a way, is more important than being captain. When you have been to tournaments you are more capable of being the kind of person that a younger player might need to speak to”
Football has a strange way of following certain patterns. Inter Milan winning the European Champions League on the weekend for the first time since 1965 may be an omen as that’s about how long it has been since England last won the World Cup. Nobody should hold their breath waiting for it to happen of course but then there’s nothing wrong with hoping that Ferdinand can bring his team home with the trophy.
How far do you expect England to progress in the World Cup?