Off-field problems add to Hodgson's England headache
Two words on Rio Ferdinand's Twitter timeline poured fuel on the fire of a debate that now threatens to overshadow England's final preparations for Euro 2012.
When Belgium's Dries Mertens needlessly and nastily shoved Gary Cahill into goalkeeper Joe Hart in England's 1-0 win at Wembley on Saturday, he not only caused Chelsea's defender a double fracture of the jaw, he also gave new manager Roy Hodgson a serious headache.
With Cahill a serious doubt from the moment the incident occurred - his absence was confirmed on Sunday afternoon - it was clear much of the attention would centre on whether Hodgson would turn to Manchester United defender Ferdinand as his replacement.
Ferdinand was the most high-profile exclusion from Hodgson's 23-man squad for Poland and Ukraine and the questions surrounding his absence will no doubt be revisited in the build-up to England's first game against France in Donetsk on 11 June.
Hodgson was at great pains to point out the omission had been for "footballing reasons" and not because of any diplomatic difficulties surrounding the court case involving fellow defender John Terry, who will stand trial after Euro 2012 for alleged racist abuse of Ferdinand's brother Anton, a charge he denies.
But once it emerged that Liverpool's young defender Martin Kelly was the preferred choice to replace Cahill, Rio Ferdinand made his feelings clear, tweeting: "What reasons?????!!!"
Hardly a coded message, it is a clear indicator that Ferdinand still questions the rationale behind Hodgson leaving him out of the summer showpiece.
Hodgson has said "footballing reasons" are behind his decision to omit Rio Ferdinand, not perceived difficulties in selecting both him and John Terry. Photo: PA
Those supporting Ferdinand's case will point to his vast experience, especially after the loss of wise heads Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard to injury, and his proven ability to handle the biggest games in a long, distinguished and successful career.
His representative Jamie Moralee said: "Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all ageing but they go to the tournament. Why is Rio different?
"To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times (in this
manner) is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and
the FA as far as I am concerned."
The case against, meanwhile, may actually have been articulated most clearly by his own manager at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson saying before England's Euro 2012 squad selection: "You play something like a game every four days. Rio Ferdinand couldn't do that."
If Hodgson is minded to elaborate on the "footballing reasons" behind his decision to leave Ferdinand out of his plans, he may well use Ferguson's fears about his fitness.
Terry himself has now been passed fit after complaining about a tight hamstring against Belgium - and England's central defensive pairing will now exercise Hodgson's mind in the coming days.
Kelly will act as deputy for his Liverpool colleague Glen Johnson at right-back and has very limited experience as central defender - not enough to be seriously considered as an option in this tournament.
Of course Manchester City's Micah Richards could also have come into the equation had he felt able to make himself available for England's stand-by list.
This decision looked increasingly rash on Sunday afternoon and for all the injustice Ferdinand clearly feels he has suffered, he has at no point suggested he feels hurt enough to withdraw his international services - although it remains to be seen how long that remains the case.
It also means the list of potential tasks to be performed by Manchester United youngster Phil Jones now includes cover at right-back, central defence and central midfield. Hodgson will hope he does not go lame between now and the time the action starts.
Manchester City's Joleon Lescott, who had an outstanding season at Etihad Stadium, is now favourite to partner Terry although there is a logistical difficulty in that both prefer the left side of the central positions.
There is another alternative partnership embedded in England's squad, however, one that is tried and tested and one that may yet come to the rescue in the coming weeks.
Lescott and Everton's Phil Jagielka formed a formidable partnership at club level when they played together at Goodison Park and they have looked comfortable together for England. It is something Hodgson will be very aware of.
Belgium's Mertens has a lot to answer for after his awful barge on Cahill. He has not only caused an opponent to fracture his jaw in two places - he has potentially disturbed the peace of England's preparations for Euro 2012.