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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
United they lose
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Owen Hargreaves of England (M) stretches with team-mates during England's training session at the Colney Hatch training ground

England's players have demonstrated an arrogance that is staggering even by football's standards by holding the Football Association hostage over the Rio Ferdinand affair.

The England team is a single unifying factor in a game occasionally bitterly divided along deeply tribal lines.

And yet the chosen few, who should regard representing their country as an honour, are currently treating the privilege like a personal play-thing.

If the chosen battleground - in this case defending Ferdinand's indefensible folly - is a sign of their current state of judgement, then heaven help England when they actually pitch up in Istanbul on Saturday.

When the muddied waters of this farcical episode finally clear, one fact alone is beyond dispute.

And that is that Ferdinand blatantly broke the rules by failing to take a drug test on 23 September.

There can be no defence, and for England's players to even consider boycotting this crucial game on such flimsy grounds is a pathetic, childish and shameful dereliction of duty.

And in among all the soundbites from wounded Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor and Ferdinand's club, Manchester United, there is as yet no serious condemnation of the real wrong-doer in this matter.

Namely, Rio Ferdinand.

Ferdinand was more than forgetful to miss his drug test. He was a fool and deserves nothing less than his exclusion from England's squad to face Turkey.

If Manchester United and the FA had handled this properly, it would never have got to this stage
Terry Butcher
Former England captain
It may be a cynical question, but would Ferdinand have been quite so absent-minded if his appointment was for a fashion shoot or a lucrative newspaper interview?

Instead the FA is being made, unfairly, to look incompetent, and Ferdinand is being transformed into a martyr by misguided England team-mates.

The selection processes of the England team should be a matter of supreme indifference to the players chosen. If they are picked they should play, end of story.

And yet so-called senior England professionals are publicly holding a gun to the head of the game's hierarchy.

As for the "senior players" heading this revolt, it would be a matter of laughter if so many people were not already crying for our national sport.

In the vanguard, allegedly, we hear the illustrious names of seasoned internationals such as goalkeeper David James and Phil Neville.

These are players who can currently consider themselves highly fortunate to be England internationals, never mind being those reportedly involved in the plot to restore Ferdinand.

The FA has emerged desperate and damaged, but its initial instincts were correct.

Ferdinand's offence could not be brushed under the carpet on the basis that it was all a little inconvenient with England scheduled to play Turkey.

The FA's decision was correct and it is right to stick to its guns.

How would the nation have viewed a similar offence by a Turkish player? With understanding or suspicion?

I think we know the answer.

And as England's players pack their bags and head for Turkey, they may not be aware of one not inconsequential matter.

This is the fact that little sympathy has been expressed for their stance by the nation's football public.

Ferdinand should remain in exile and England's players should know better.

The FA's Paul Barber revealed England would be disqualified if they fail to fulfil Saturday's fixture.

On the grisly evidence of the Ferdinand affair, the rest of Europe's football community may be moved to suggest that they would not be missed.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter
"There is not enough discipline and respect in our game"

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