MANCHESTER: Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he is relieved that his defender Rio Ferdinand has been left out of Roy Hodgson's latest England squad, even allowing for the controversy around the decision.
Hodgson apologised at a press conference on Thursday for having let slip to supporters on a London tube the fact that he intended to omit the veteran Manchester United defender from his squad for the upcoming games with San Marino and Poland.
With John Terry having announced his international retirement, it had been thought that Ferdinand, 33, might be in line for a recall from Hodgson, despite the manager having left him out of the England squad for the 2012 European Championships.
However, Hodgson ignored Ferdinand in his latest selection and, while Ferguson declined to give his opinion over the handling of his player, the United manager is clearly happy that he will not be playing additional games.
“I'm not getting into that,” said Ferguson.
“But I'm happy anyway because I think that at his age he should be protecting himself as best he can. Hopefully, by doing that, he will be far more important to me than England.”
Ferdinand's absence from the national squad is all the more important, from a United perspective, given long-term injuries that have afflicted central defenders Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling this season and which have left Ferdinand and Jonny Evans as his only recognised fit centre-halves.
Ferguson, however, has received better news about Smalling and, indeed, Evans who suffered a painful dead leg in last weekend's defeat to Tottenham and had to be helped from the field after the final whistle.
“He's okay,” said Ferguson of Evans.
“It was a dead leg he got from the previous game on the Saturday against Tottenham and towards the end it just tightened up, he's okay.
“There's only one player who can come back really (after the forthcoming international break) and that's Smalling, who's got a chance of coming back.
“I certainly think Smalling will have done enough training on the football side, he'll start the football side on Monday. That certainly is a blessing for us, getting him back, particularly as we know we have a problem with centre backs.”
After the weekend visit to Newcastle, United's next league fixture is not until October 20, when they host Stoke, and Ferguson also hopes winger Ashley Young could be fit to return for that game, also, after recovering from a knee injury.
“Ashley Young, he'll start training while the internationals are on, particularly the second week,” said Ferguson.
“He could maybe stretch, make that game against Stoke City when we come back from internationals.”