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Ferdinand retires from international soccer, what now for England?

May 15, 2013, 7:14 AM EST

WC2002-DEN-ENG-BECKHAM-FERDINAND-OWEN Getty Images

This morning Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand announced his retirement from international soccer.

Considering he hasn’t played for England in nearly two years, you can be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.

But Ferdinand’s form for United this season has shown everyone that he still has plenty to give on the elite stage, with many believing the 34-year-old center back could still do a tremendous job for the Three Lions.

Ferdinand won 81 caps for England, scoring three times which included a goal in the last 16 win over Denmark in the 2002 World Cup.

In all he played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups and was named England captain in 2008.

After several injury hit seasons, the 2012-13 campaign saw him return to form and fitness, which resulted in a recall to the England squad under new manager Roy Hodgson. However Ferdinand ended up declining the call up, citing health reasons after a back injury. But created a furor after instead flying to the Middle East to cover the England games he pulled out of, as a pundit for a foreign satellite TV company.

Of course, England have plenty of players who can step in in central defense. But are any quite as good as Ferdinand?

They haven’t shown so yet.

As aforementioned, Ferdinand has not played since June 2011 for England. Since then Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson have used the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott, Michael Dawson, Ryan Shawcross and Steven Caulker at center back.

The fact that so many different players have been used, highlights England’s main problem. They haven’t been able to replace the solid partnership of John Terry and Ferdinand that stood as their foundation for many years.

But it isn’t as if Ferdinand is past it or melting into the background at United. This season he was arguably their most consistent performer and his place in the EPL team of the year cements that notion. He still has a lot to give for club and country, which is why this announcement is so disappointing.

(More: Ferdinand snubs England call up, after Hodgson extends olive branch)

In Ferdinand’s press release announcing his retirement, the London born defender had this to say. “I feel the time is right for me to stand aside and let the younger players come through.”

The sad fact is, for England fans, Rio has done that for the last two years and nobody has emerged as his successor. England’s defensive future remains unresolved.

Who would you like to see as the Three Lions central defensive pairing? Cahill and Jagielka? Smalling and Jones? Or perhaps Lescott and Dawson?

Whichever pair you chose, ask yourself this. Was Rio Ferdinand head and shoulders above them in his prime? Yes, will be the likely answer. And therein lies the problem for Hodgson and the English national team.

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