RIO FERDINAND ANNOUNCED on Wednesday that he was calling time on his England career to concentrate on his club duties at Manchester United.
The 34-year-old centre-half won 81 caps in a controversial international career that took him to three World Cups, but was overshadowed by several off-field incidents.
“After a great deal of thought, I have decided the time is right for me to retire from international football,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
The south Londoner, who hopes to sign a new contract with Premier League champions United, has not played for England since featuring against Switzerland in June 2011.
He was called up by England manager Roy Hodgson for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro in March this year but opted not to join the squad, instead travelling to Qatar as a television pundit claiming his “intricate, pre-planned” fitness programme would not allow him to play.
That decision was widely interpreted as a snub to Hodgson, who had left him out of the Euro 2012 squad for what the England manager described as “footballing reasons”.
However, at the time Ferdinand’s brother Anton was in dispute with the Chelsea and England defender John Terry, whom he claimed had racially abused him, and it was seen as a convenient way of avoiding friction within the squad.
Hodgson said at the time: “I was disappointed about it when he couldn’t accept the invitation and it was a pity it couldn’t come about this time but we move on with this squad of players.”
Ferdinand was also involved in England controversy in 2003 when he was reported to the Football Association for failing to attend a drugs test and was left out of England’s squad for a Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey as a result.
He was punished with an eight-month ban, which ruled him out of Euro 2004, and also hit with a £50,000 ($75,000) fine.
With England’s squad for the friendlies against Ireland and Brazil set to be announced on Thursday, Ferdinand’s retirement means Hodgson will have to look at alternatives at centre-back as Chris Smalling is injured.
Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott are likely candidates to partner Gary Cahill at the heart of England’s defence.
Ferdinand became England’s youngest-ever defender when he made his debut shortly after his 19th birthday in a friendly against Cameroon at Wembley in November 1997.
And Hodgson refused to dwell on Ferdinand’s recent issues as he saluted the defender’s contribution to England.
“It is important to pay tribute to someone of Rio’s stature and the achievements he had in a senior international career with England over 14 years at the highest level,” Hodgson said.
“To have captained his country, to play at three World Cups and indeed score in one of those, marks him out amongst a very special group of players.”
Hodgson admitted he didn’t expect the news but he was pleased Ferdinand took the time to inform him of his decision before going public with the announcement.
“I didn’t expect it,” he said. “It was as big a surprise to me yesterday when he called me as it was for the general public today.
“I respect the decision and it was good of Rio to call me before I actually needed to select a squad.
“I think his sentiments are admirable, fantastic. I agree with him; I think we do have a crop of interesting young players coming through and I think it’s good he accepts maybe it’s the right time for him to step aside.”