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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 12:06 GMT
No defence for Ferdinand
By Philip McNulty
Chief football writer

Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand may have been "devastated" at the decision to uphold an eight-month ban for missing a mandatory drugs test - but surely not surprised.

Manchester United's 30m defender, along with club and country, can now reflect throughout Euro 2004 and the opening weeks of next season on the stupidity of his "forgetfulness".

The Football Association Appeal Board was totally correct to reject Ferdinand's appeal against his conviction and sanction.

Indeed the main focus of the Board's thoughts may have centred on the FA's suggestion that the suspension be increased to 12 months as further punishment for United's arrogant intransigence in the affair.

MAN UTD WITH RIO
Played: 20
Won: 15
Drawn: 2
Lost: 3
Goals conceded per game: 0.7
Points per game: 2.35

Ferdinand made much of the board's confirmation that he was not under suspicion of being a drugs cheat.

True enough and some small measure of consolation, but this was a straw-clutching exercise of the most desperate sort.

This is because for all United's sabre-rattling, weighty dossiers and public protestations Rio Ferdinand is a guilty man.

It is no good Ferdinand taking the test the next day, or producing follicles of hair - it would have been a far better idea had he produced himself to take the test in the first place.

He drove away from Manchester United's Carrington training ground on 23 September having failed to take a drugs test.

Once he did that he had to serve a lengthy suspension. The fact he was not guilty of drug-taking is commendable and clears any cloud of suspicion, but is no defence against the main charge.

MAN UTD WITHOUT RIO
Played: 8
Won: 3
Drawn: 2
Lost: 3
Goals conceded per game: 1.88
Points per game: 1.38

More stupid than sinister - but guilty all the same and deserving of the punishment he has received.

Ferdinand's cause was not helped by United's decision to defend the indefensible and take on the FA in a battle they would never win.

Informed sources still suggest that if United had accepted it was a fair cop and simply stated "we've got a silly boy on our hands here", the punishment would not have been as severe.

Instead, they alienated both public opinion and the game's authority by almost suggesting they were above the law, forfeiting sympathy and the moral high ground with some aplomb.

And while Ferdinand's personal suffering was written all over his agonised expression, his absence also creates serious consequences for United and England.

Ferdinand took a season, albeit a title-winning season, to fully justify his hefty price tag, but was in magnificent form alongside Mikael Silvestre as United set the Premiership pace again this season.

But since he limped out of his final game before suspension against Wolves on 17 January, United's season has gone into freefall - starting with Kenny Miller's goal on that seminal afternoon.

The warning signs were posted in the 3-2 win against Southampton and were on display again when United saw a three-goal lead pulled back at Everton before Ruud van Nistelrooy's late winner.

Terry is Ferdinand's natural England replacement

Middlesbrough took advantage of United's creaking rearguard to win 3-2 at Old Trafford before more defensive deficiencies were exposed in the Champions League defeat against Porto.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's Ferdinand dilemma now stretches into next season.

His failure to replace Ferdinand in the January transfer window was clearly an error - and with the defender not scheduled to appear again until late September, he must now act during the summer.

By then England's Euro 2004 fate will have been decided, but coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is in a more comfortable position than Ferguson.

Eriksson will rue Ferdinand's absence, but can still call on quality defenders to partner Sol Campbell.

Chelsea's John Terry is regarded by many as at least Ferdinand's equal, while Middlesbrough's Gareth Southgate and Newcastle's Jonathan Woodgate will be equally at home in Lisbon.

England will still miss Ferdinand's partnership with Campbell - but the big losers all-round are Manchester United and a player whose carefree attitude has been rightly punished.






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